Monday, September 26, 2005

The intimidation factor

I have only been in this position for a few years, yet I have already received a few "harrassing" phone calls.

The modus operandi is always the same. Message left on my voicemail at school in the wee hours of a weekend. Student is male and most likely drunk. Content is not slam-dunk sexual, but is awfully close. Profanity is common. The B word is typically involved. No (real) name or number is left. I never recognize the voice, so I don't know if this is a former student, a current student, or just a random jackass.

My reaction is always the same. I am more annoyed than anything else. (Who wants to start the week that way?) It feels creepy. But it is not inherently intimidating.

Yet, at the same time, it is intimidating. The undercurrent is there: I am a male student, I am anonymous, and I can hurt you. I can make you feel uncomfortable. I can make you feel unwelcome. And there's not a damned thing you can do to me.

Most telling, this has not happened to my male colleagues, ever. (I'm not sure about my female colleagues in other departments....will have to take an informal survey.)

Taken by itself, one could argue that this is not such a big deal. It's just a phone call from a random drunken student. But when you combine this with the other daily "no big deals"---the student who disagrees with you but goes to your colleague about it rather than confronting you (because obviously you have no idea what you're talking about), being ignored in technical conversations and meetings, colleagues who don't give you credit for your ideas, feeling like you have to get up every day and re-prove your credentials to your students---and suddenly, all those little "no big deals" don't look so little anymore. Death by a thousand paper cuts.

I'm here. I'm not planning on going anywhere. But I wish knowing that didn't feel so darned lonely.


Ianqui said...

Uhhh, seems to me like this is kind of a big deal. I mean, I've never gotten phone calls like this. I would think about telling someone about it.

My voicemail at work tells what number the call was placed from. Maybe your telecom can track yours too.

What Now? said...

I'm with Ianqui; this is a big deal, more than creepy. I'd definitely find out if voicemail has a way of telling you where the call came from. And certainly Public Safety should be alerted; there may be other professors or students receiving these phone calls, and someone needs to be keeping track and looking for any patterns.

I'm so sorry that you're having this terrible experience. Be safe.

Morton T Fogg said...

I'm new here (though I've read back posts), but I agree with everyone above.

I would imagine that the school has call logs for its internal switchboards. If you talk to your campus police they might be able to track where the calls came from -- moreover, they'd probably be quite interested in tracking where they came from.

Jane said...

Thanks, everyone! I didn't mean to sound so flip about the situation---the whole 'this is not a big deal' viewpoint probably comes more from the whole 'I should let this roll off my back' mentality; plus, the last times this happened and I reported it, the complaint disappeared into the ether, no follow-up or resolution. Certainly my colleagues have been horrified, and luckily the higher-ups ARE treating this as a big deal this time. A very big deal, in fact.

I don't know if anything will ultimately be resolved from this, but at least I have the administration's attention---and that's something good, I guess.

dr four eyes said...

I'm sorry this is happening to you. For what it's worth, this practice does have a name--contrapower harassment or contrapower sexual harassment occurs when someone with less formal power but with more social power (here, a male student) harasses someone with more formal power but less social power (a female professor). I don't know, it just helps me when I can name stuff like this, though it certainly doesn't solve the situation.

Anonymous said...

I'm a young male professor. It has happened to me. People screaming homophobic slurs from cars, writing on my door. Sophomoric nonsense...I didn't get too worked up over it. Don't know if I'd feel the same if I were female. Just know that it has happened to some of the boys too!

Fiona said...

That phone stuff happened when I was a young professor (I'm female), but doesn't happen now that I'm middle-aged. Don't know if that's the difference, but it could be.

When it did happen, I reported it to the police in my small town, who told me that next time he called, I should yell, "Yes, operator, this is the call I want traced!" I did, and he never called again.

A lot of the other stuff--belittlement, reports to your colleagues, being not taken seriously--also stops when you get older. Age Rules!

Anonymous said...

while i despise that this happens, and think it is wrong. i prefer to have it happen if it is going to happen than to suppress it. my reasoning is that it lets you know the campus climate and the climate of the population of students that you deal with. it keeps us honest about the realities of working with students.

Jane said...

Wow, such great comments! Thanks again to y'all.

ABD, I remember hearing something about that theory, but I had no idea it had a name. I like that name better than "yuckiness", which is the technical term I've been using to refer to this phenomenon. :)

Anonymous (1), wow, that is horrible! Even when you can acknowledge it as immaturity, it doesn't make it any easier to stomach. I'm sorry that you've had to deal with that. (If you don't mind me asking, how have you dealt with it, and how has your school dealt with it? you can email me if you feel more comfortable discussing it privately rather than in the comments.)

Fiona, I hope I can make it to middle age intact! But yes, I do hope that time and age will mellow my student's reactions towards me.

Anonymous (2), I do agree that knowing that mentality is out there, however uncomfortable that is, is valuable. I just fervently wish that it wasn't out there, that there wasn't this icky gender bias, and that there wasn't this (very small) subset of the student population who wants to "put me in my place" in some sense. But you raise a very good point.

Ellen Spertus said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ellen Spertus said...

I agree that you should contact Public Safety, not because I think you are in physical danger but because it is their job to monitor (and, if possible, to stop) such activity.

I can also tell you that no matter how wonderful a teacher you are, some students will hate you. I speak from experience. :-)

Clare said...

That's really terrible, and disgusting that there's some prat out there getting away with it. From my experience, he's probably some sad little tosser with too much time on his hands, but better safe than sorry.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Wow, this is really horrible. It's bad enough if someone decides they can do this to a woman they know socially - but there's something really fucked up when a student feels they can do this to a professor. FWIW, it's never happened to me, but then, I teach a more "girly" subject (or girlier elements of it), so I don't run into boys thinking that I'm "invading" their turf or something. I'm just very impressed at how well you handle it. It's horrible that this is an issue at all. I hope Campus Security (or whoever) can figure out who it is!

EliRabett said...

1. It happens to everyone, including guys. I once had my tires slashed (actually it was a student's tires who drove the same model car. I paid for his tires).

2. It is worse when the clowns try and make it sexual.

3. Make a big deal of it. It IS a big deal.

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ringtones man said...

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