Thursday, March 30, 2017

Rule Zero

A while back, I wrote that Rule #1 for Professors is to treat the staff well--that secretaries, office managers, and administrators within one's department--both because it is the right thing to do and because it is strategic (these folks can make your lives miserable or most pleasant).  The first commenter suggested that Rule #1 was "'Don't sleep with your students?'" My response: no, that is just basic behavior that does not need to be rule-guided.  The past 24 hours has made me realize that I might need to elaborate this Rule Zero.

Why now?  A couple of things: first, Pence's policy of not dining with non-wives raised discussions of how does one work with the opposite sex (with this dumb tweet suggesting Pence ain't alone); second, a Center for New American Security survey was tweeted yesterday about the role of gender in the national security business; third, I got another email from a student who experienced sexual harassment at my old place (my previous posts on that topic have led to a steady stream of such email, direct messages and other contacts although these are not always about the same guy).

So, what is Rule Zero? Treat students essentially the same regardless of gender, sexuality, race, religion, origin, nationality, class, disability, age, etc. This makes everything far easier--one does not have to figure out different rules for the opposite sex, the same sex or whatever.  And it is the right thing to do because whatever a person's attributes, they are at school because they are students, not because they are temptresses or targets of sexual desire.  As professors want to be treated as professors (call us prof or doctor, not hey you or Miss, or bro), our students are entitled to be treated as students.  Not as sexual objects and not as seductresses or seducers.

Sure, young professors or advanced grad students are told to keep their doors open so that they don't get accused of sexually harassing their students.  Let's be clear--the norm should be to keep one's door open, more to assure students they are not trapped than because of the prof's fear.  But note: no gender or sexuality is mentioned in that norm as I stated it.  Treat people the same.  I only close my door when a student, male or female, LGBT or not, when they ask because the matter is a private one.  This has happened rarely as most students have not had to talk about deeply personal issues with me, but those that have (because they want to talk about how they have been harassed or they want to explain their medical excuse for missing an assignment, etc) could do so.  The only time I refused to close the door was a plagiarist who might have been the one student in my career who was either trying to seduce me or set me up.  But in that circumstance, trust was already broken by the aforementioned plagiarism and the lying to cover it up. 

About dining or drinking with students?  The key is this: if you do it with some students, then don't deny opportunities to women or to men or to single people or to married people.  Because my wife is secure in our marriage and because I can resist hitting on women and because I get it that people are in school or in this profession because of who they want to be and not because they want to be sexualized, I do drink, eat, karaoke and gamble with women (married or not).  Why?  Because I have found in my career that women have been probably more than half of my closest friends, most supportive colleagues, and engaging scholars.  Oh, and because more than half of my Phd students have been women and to treat them differently, to put them in an inferior position, would simply be wrong.

I have seen enough sexism in my career that I don't want to perpetuate it or reinforce it. 

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