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» Scarleteen Boards: 2000 - 2014 (Archive) » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Sexual Ethics and Politics » Harassment, or individual expression?

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Author Topic: Harassment, or individual expression?
Kite
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I am currently a graduate teaching assistant, in charge of my own class (ie, I lecture, grade, make decisions concerning every aspect of a student's grade). I'm also queer. I am very often tempted to get some queer pride t-shirts, say something with a rainbow or a nice slogan or something, but I don't because I am afraid my students will consider my wearing it harassment. When I do get a non-mainstream piece of clothing (not queer), before wearing it I think about the odds of meeting a student that day. I live in a fairly conservative city, and it seems that students in general are quite hostile to queerness, and in general quite trigger-happy when it comes to complaining about teachers. I am afraid that a simple rainbow t-shirt would make them uncomfortable, and that they might argue I should keep my sexuality out of the classroom.

What do you think? Is it harassment, or self-expression to wear a queer t-shirt whenever I please? (Of course, nothing offensive like "--beep-- all straight people") Students, would you be made uncomfortable by a teacher wearing his/her pride? Teachers, do you think about those things too? Or am I just paranoid and not as much out of the closet as I like to think I am?


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Confused boy
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Well your students should learn to accept different sexualities and since you are a teacher, you could make a stand and change their views. Promoting queerness is not the same way as promoting Nazism or something, as long as the slogan on your t-shirt is not against straight people, therefore it is not harrasment.

Also the chances are a few of your students are questioning their sexuality, at least in secret so this will help comfort them.

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'An Anarchist is a Liberal with a bomb' Trotsky


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Lynne
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I'm a bit confused. Are you planning on wearing it inside the classroom, or out? I got a feeling it's the former, but I'm not sure. Anyway, inside the classroom, I'd avoid wearing such a thing, simply because it's probably best to keep politics (and sexuality, and other non-relevant bits of your personal life) out of class.

As for the rest of the time, I'd like to tell you go for it. It's your body and your spare time, after all. Shirts like those you've described are hardly harrassment (I'd classify a harrassing T-shirt as one that's threatening), and anybody who's offended by one needs to grow a thicker skin. However, it's a sad fact of the world that the thin-skinned are out there, and some of them might be your students, and some of them might see you and complain. It's doubtful, but it could happen. Wearing a queer pride shirt in your free time is a completely defendable choice -- the question is, do you want to have to defend it?

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Dude_who_writes
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I, coming from the point-of-view of the student, really have no problem with your expressing your sexual identity. However, I do see how some students might. There are chances that you could suddenly become identified by only your sexuality, and that could cause problems relating to some of the homophobic students just because they might not be able to see beyond your sexual identity.

I guess when I really look at it, I see your sexual identity as being rather inconsequential to the class itself, which, if you do choose to express it, may simply alienate some of your students, which doesn't seem as though it would be something you want to do.

I'm not sure I conveyed exactly what I wanted to say, but I hope that I got the jest of what I meant across.

[edited for clarity]
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Tim
ST Advocate

"Read the Bible again sometime. Women are painted as bigger antagonists than the Egyptians and Romans combined. It stinks." --"Serendipity," Dogma

[This message has been edited by Dude_who_writes (edited 01-23-2002).]


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cupcake
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Seems to me that you're in a position of authory (sort of) like a teacher, and be bound by the same rules.

As a teacher-figure type thing (gotta love my wording! ) in the classroom, I would say not to wear those shirts because it undermines professionalism.

Outside the classroom, you aren't bound by that, you're your own person again, and you can do what you want.

I know that where I work, a certain standard of professionalism is required. YOur job may not require a suit, or dress clothes or a uniform, but certain rules are genrally in place, even if they are unspoken.


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Kite
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I guess I agree with all of you. It is true that making a political statement in the classroom might help a questioning student, but then again this is not what my department pays me for (unfortunately?). In the same way that I try to have clean and neat clothes for class because extreme messiness could distract my students, I think political stuff should be out.

<aside>
(I remember this one prof who once came to class wearing dirty pajama bottoms and a completely clashing horribly dirty sweatshirt. Boy, nobody concentrated much that day )
</aside>


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BruinDan
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You know Kite, (and this may be rather off-topic), it sounds to me like you have a really genuine concern about the welfare of your students. To me, that is what makes a great TA. I just graduated from UCLA, where I spent the past five years enjoying some TA's and suffering through others...and we could always tell which TA's genuinely cared about their students and which ones were only teaching because they had to.

The fact that your primary concern is your students means everything in my book. And I'd sign up for your class in a hearbeat.

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[This message has been edited by BruinDan (edited 01-23-2002).]


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Kite
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Awwwwwww, BruinDan, thanks

Sometimes I am overwhelmed when I think that I hold part of my students' future in my hands... and I really don't want to screw it up (even if it's just a teeny tiny part of their future). And I don't want to be that teacher that turns somebody off of math for the rest of their life.


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Sh!mmeR!ng*staR
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Hmm... i agree with what was said about keeping sexuality out of the classroom, for the most part. I wouldn't find anything wrong w/you wearing a pride shirt if you were my teacher, but a lot of other students might... you might be able to get by with a little rainbow bracelet, tho

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Prosperity that
the golden Muses
gave me was no
delusion: dead, I
won't be forgotten
-Sappho


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ErinK
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When I teach (I'm also a TA, but on mostly non-classroom assignment at the moment), I tend to think about what my mode of dress (which varies wildly) tells my students about myself, how seriously I'm taking the course, and how seriously I'm taking them.

So I do use how I dress as part of the message I'm giving myself (jeans and a tshirt when we're just having a hang-out-and-workshop day, more professional clothes when we're doing presentations and I want to signal that I'm taking them seriously) and part of the message I'm giving them.

So, I tend not to wear stuff that reveals my political/social/sexual affiliations to my students, but that's because I value my privacy with regard to those matters. I do think that they come up in my classroom, adn that my students could probably take some informed guesses as to what I think and believe.

It's hard to balance what you believe personally and the persona you present as a teacher; it's even harder because I have seen some students confuse them, and believe that "If I don't believe as the teacher does, then s/he will fail me and that's unfair." I really wish I could understand why students think that way -- I think I can understand it, but it's very hard. No matter how much I disagree with a student, I do my best to be fair.

One option, though, is that many schools have "Safe Space" or "Ally" programs where people can put signs on their doors to indicate that their office is an LGBT-friendly place. Even my very conservative Midwestern university has them, and my officemates and I have the symbol for it on our door. (It's a triangle with LGBT Ally on it.) YOu might want to see if your school has a similar program -- that way, you can indicate to those (few, if they're anything like mine) who come to your office hours that you would be someone they could talk to about it.

Whew, that was long winded. I hope it at least made sense.

Erin


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Milke
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I think a t-shirt is going a bit far, as wearing a shirt declaring any sort of affiliation is usually rather unprofessional. It's also a bit heavy-handed. However, I see no problem with smaller symbols, like jewelry. Because of the current legal situation, a wedding ring is a declaration of heterosexuality, and that degree is just fine, and very socially acceptable, so why not a little rainbow earring, or pendant?

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'Every day is like Sunday'


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Maharet
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I'm a former high school student (graduated last year) and gay. I agree, rather reluctantly, that a Tshirt is going over the top. But I think that a piece of rainbow jewlery etc is an excellent idea. It was pretty lonely for me at my high school: I didn't know any other gay ppl, and for a teacher to mention, even in passing something about positive GLBT ppl, made my gay-antenna go beep, and I instantly gave that teacher a big mental tick . (It's actually ILLIEGAL at the moment for teachers to independently bring up anything to do with homosexuality without a student asking a question first! Thankfully we have a new state govt, who's working to change that). Anyway, anything that is even vaugely rainbow sets off my antenna. Most of the straight kids in your class aren't going to notice, but us gay kids sure will.

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"If you don't like gays, then they're everywhere, coming out of the woodwork to corrupt little children... but if you are gay, especially if you're in high school, you're the only one in the universe..."


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Kite
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Wow, I didn't see all these new posts! It's great to have so many people writing on this...

Erin, you have a really good point when you say that your manner of dress determines how your students react to you. When I first started teaching I was all scared that my students would eat me alive (I'm young, and look even younger) that I came to class the first day wearing this prim little skirt and this prim little blouse and prim little makeup, and believe me, they didn't take me seriously for one second. Now (1.5 years later) I wear my normal clothes and my students are much more comfortable with it.

The Ally program is a good idea; I'll look into that.

The small accessories idea is also good; a student of mine always wears some rainbow trinket and my queer-or-queer-friendly-antenna picked it up almost immediately

You guys are full of good ideas!


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cupcake
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Just on the note of the Ally thing...

Queen's University (where I want to go) has a program liek that, but when I first heard about it, it seemed to me to almost be INVITING harassment.

Maybe it's just cause I've grown up where that's always been an issue, but seems to me, putting a sign on your door just says, here come beat the living stuffing out of
me cause now you know where I live.

I'm sorry it's really off topic, but it seemed to fit.


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ErinK
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Well, the offices are in a public building, that does have security, so while I can see that it's possible for incidents to happen, it's not the same for me as putting a sign on the door of my *house*.

Plus, I share one of my offices with six colleagues, and usually one or more of them is int he office. In the office I now do most of my work in, I'm behind several walls and it's difficult to find me unless you know where I live.

I do think, though, that if you're concerned about your own safety, you shouldn't put one up, but I feel pretty safe in the building where I work.

Erin


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