Monday, February 12, 2018

Just Missing the Me Too Moment

I loved my education, but I hated grad school.

On one occasion in 2014, when I had openly expressed many of my grievances on social media, I was called on the carpet by a tenured female professors.

"You think you have it bad?" she said. (As a straight white male, how could I?) "It's far worse at a lot of other places," by which she meant humanities research departments, "believe me."

She went on to allude, in very elliptical terms, the outlines of her own trial-by-fire experience, set in some indefinite past, including an uncomfortable situation with one particular male colleague whom she declined to identify. Presumably he was now emeritus or had been only a visiting professor, and in any case was no longer a current faculty member, although she was far from making any of this explicitly clear.

She said that ongoing faculty obligations required her to work alongside this male colleague from time to time, presumably on various ad hoc committees overseeing fundraising, alumni liaison, etc.

This female professor was quite proud that she could suck it up and tough it out, and maintain her collegiality and dignity. The upshot was that I had to learn to do the same with my petty, ungrateful complaints.

In the course of the same little chat, the professor remarked, "People think I'm a pushover, but I'm not."

With asynchronous contemporaneities, timing is everything.

The last time I saw this professor was this past summer of 2017, at a memorial service for one of my fellow graduate students. This member of my 2007 cohort had taken her own life that past spring, only three years after earning her PhD.

At the service, the professor had spoken eloquently of the student's many contributions to the department, and to scholarship.

No male professors, including the deceased's own thesis advisor or another male professor for whom both the deceased student and I had served as teaching fellows, were in attendance.

As I was leaving the church, I paused on the steps; it was a serenely calm if somewhat hazy August afternoon. A few moments later, footsteps from the downstairs fellowship hall approached behind me. It was the professor, also leaving. We were alone for a moment.

"I've been going to too many of these lately," she remarked, meaning memorial services for various of her academic colleagues. "I hope it's a long time before the next one."

"Yes, let's hope," I replied.

Not many weeks after this, the MeToo movement began in earnest.

I have often wondered, as new stories are made public daily, what the deceased would have liked to add, and what the living have yet to add, to the ongoing narrative.

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