This semester I had an experience with my biology professor in which I felt harassed. My professor would “take a break” near the end of every lecture by telling a good ol’ fashioned sexist joke. The plots were predictable: “wife spends my money”, “women are screechy nag-y dragons”, “150lbs is too fat and my wife should be embarrassed”… The pattern is clear. I felt extremely uncomfortable in class when these jokes were told; there was no mockery of the men in the room, just the women. After a while I decided to take action, spurred on of course by my discussion in GWST 200. I sent him a firm but polite email describing the jokes and why they were offensive to women. His response was everything I hoped for. Gracious apologies and “I’ll never do it again” swept across the computer screen. I was overjoyed! I had done it, I had made a difference. I proceeded to pat myself of the back when he asked if he could quote my well written email to the class when he publically apologized. I told him that he could quote it but he couldn’t use my name: I wanted the focus to be on the issue, not the crazy feminist. When the class period came that he was to apologize, he threw me a curveball. Instead of the genuine apology I naïvely expected, the professor proceeded to read my entire email to the 300 person lecture in a mocking tone and then shared with the class that a “man wouldn’t have e-mailed him about it” if they felt slightly offended. This was a wakeup call: sexism still exists and women face it every day, even on such an accepting campus as UMBC.
While less than desirable, this experience gave me the perfect opportunity for activism. My original goal for my activism project was to create a guide or pamphlet that gave students resources to deal with problems of sexism in the classroom; something that was sassy enough for me to scatter around my biology lecture hall.
At the time of my proposal and idea, the incident with my professor was very recent and I was still trying to figure out how to approach it. Upon reflection and beginning my project, I got the chance to simmer down a little. I see now that my original goal was geared more towards getting back at the teacher who wronged me. Instead of making a guide to dealing with sexism in the classroom, I changed my approach. My new goal was to make a flier with information of all department heads and other useful administrative positions. My angle now was “Have a problem? Talk to the department!” or “Experiencing discrimination or harassment? Contact the Director of Human Relations!” I thought that the vagueness of this approach would have the possibility to impact more students.
By the time I had done all of my research, talked to campus officials, and created my flier, it was early May. Once I had created my “product” I then started looking into the procedures by which I could distribute them around campus. The steps seemed lengthy and time consuming—I realized that by the time I could realistically post my fliers it would be too late in the semester to make a substantial difference. This was a mistake. If I could change anything about the way my project progressed, I would have looked into posting policies earlier.
I began to think to myself, “How can I make the greatest impact with my project?” So late in the semester my fliers wouldn’t have much influence on students, so I decided to take a different approach.
Next semester I will be in a position to influence a lot of people, I just got hired as a Resident Assistant for the Honors College LLC. After talking to my Community Director, I have gained permission to post my fliers in my building next semester, and permission to plan a program centered on harassment and discrimination in academic settings.
My project definitely changed over the course of the semester, but I am proud that I took a stance on an issue that affected me. While more planning in the early phases would have been helpful, I am confident that using my influence will make a positive impact in my residence hall next semester, and hopefully on the campus as a whole.