Here I go, SJW-ing it up again!

When, oh when, will I get rid of the “female chip on my shoulder” and stop being such a goddamned anti-racist feminist–you know, someone who believes women & PoC are people, and worse yet, acknowledges structural bias (some of which has quite recognizably aided me in my life)?!?!?!?

My latest column on Slate is about how in the corporatized, adjunctified university, nobody knows what to call their instructors anymore, and so it’s important for said instructors to spell it out and be patient when they forget (and, also, to make sure the disrespectful know when they are being disrespectful, intentionally or not).

I, personally, prefer “Dr. Schuman” in most contexts (I didn’t spend 7 years in Evil Graduate School for nothing), but “Rebecca” if the institution has a first-name policy (such as the Pierre Laclede Honors College!). If a student calls me “Rebecca” off the bat, that doesn’t actually bother me personally, because I see us as two adults conversing. What bothers me is “Miss Schuman” or “Miss Rebecca,” in which case they best be getting ready to do some pirouettes (there’s nobody I love and respect more than a dance teacher, but I have not earned that particular title!). And, of course, there’s little worse than a sneering “Ms. Schuman,” of the sort Brian Leiter likes to dole out. Sometimes my students try to just call me “Schuman,” and I also stop them there, explaining that that is reserved for true friends only, and I cannot be friends with people I grade. But the point of the piece is that there are so many ludicrous rules right now (that vary from university to university), that it is definitely up to us to name ourselves and then correct (and in some cases, correct and correct and correct).

In the piece, I also discuss Katrina Gulliver’s recent (and hilari-tragic) missive in IHE about super-informality, and Will Miller’s largely tonedeaf response–and in said discussion, issues of privilege and white maleness are raised; the invisible knapsack is both alluded to and linked. BECAUSE THAT SHIT IS REAL. However, it is but a part of the story’s argument, not its whole thing.

And yet…


7 thoughts on “Here I go, SJW-ing it up again!

  1. With the first name thing, it’s often clearly gendered–pretty much all colleagues I’ve ever had who’ve had the problem of students who are overly familiar were women–but with the use of Ms., I think some of it might just be that they’ve just come out of high school. And usually in high school, the teachers are Mr., Mrs./Ms., or Coach.


  2. But of course — men ARE all evil. 😉 j/k, and laughing at the fact that that reaction was from Mr. Bubba T. Bubb. I’m sure that fish is bigger in his dreams.


  3. I wrestle with this one. My egalitarian soul says that if I call my students by their first names, they can (and should) use mine in response. We’re all adults here, whether it’s at my day job or in my classroom; a piece of fancy paper doesn’t entitle me to an honorific. That’s something I should have to earn, semester after semester, in front of each new group of students. I try to *stop* them from calling me Professor. But I’m also white and male (and tall and loud and theater-trained) — I have the luxury of not having to err on the side of formality in many cases.

    Going through grad school, and now working an alt-ac job in higher ed, I usually stick to my egalitarian guns. The college president wants to be called Doctor Whomever? Sure — as soon as I’m Mister Unclematt in return. Until then we’re on a first-name basis. I’ve always thought of this as a way of punching upwards, I guess. On the other hand, I can see how it would be taken as aggressive or disrespectful. On the third hand, a little disrespect is kind of the point, as honorifics imply a status system that I don’t remember signing on to.

    As a student in your class, knowing your preference, I’d probably call you Dr. Schuman if I had to. But I’d try to avoid calling you anything.


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