On 5 March 2018, Colleen Flaherty’s “When Students Harass Professors” appeared in the online Inside Higher Ed. In the piece, Flaherty uses the case of Matthew Vivyan at Florida SouthWestern State College to exemplify an under-reported problem upon which she then expounds: harassment of faculty by students. Flaherty outlines the “normal” course of harassment–usually downwards in institutional authority–before noting the difficulties and complications involved in reporting and investigating the phenomenon. The piece follows with comments regarding what measures are taken and what can be done against such situations, and it concludes with advice for how to proceed further with them, at need.
I am fortunate, of course, to be in the position I am–and to have been in the positions I was. For one, I am certain I have done things that could–and perhaps should–occasion comment and complaint, and I have not much suffered as a result of them (although it could well be the case that certain employment decisions were made in light of such actions–but I have no way to know that, and, if I erred and was rebuked for it, I accept that as just). For another, I have rarely if ever been in the position of being harassed by students. I have had the occasional pupil who offered to “do anything for a better grade,” but I had been warned of such things, so I took measures against them.
There is really only one instance that stands out for me. While I was teaching in New York City, I had many students who were problematic for various reasons. One such, whom I’ll call Ifeche here (it’s not his real name), was routinely disruptive, not only being inattentive, but loudly so, and usually sitting in the front of the room so that his antics could not be ignored. At one point, not long after the middle of the semester, as I was lecturing on one thing or another, I noticed that Ifeche’s hands were blow the desk. This was not unusual; many of my students texted from their laps. (I cared–and care–little; as long as they do not disturb others, I am content to let students pay attention elsewhere. The matter tends to take care of itself). So I continued lecturing–until I noticed Ifeche’s arm jerking rhythmically and, as he shifted, that his hand was down the front of his pants.
At that point, I commented–and sharply–about the matter (Looking back, I am glad that the comment was “Get your hand out of your pants! What’s wrong with you?!?” rather than one of the many snarkier comments that occurs to me now–of a kind with the things that may well have gotten me into trouble in the past). Ifeche, grinning or smirking, left the room. I did not report the incident, which I probably ought to have done, and he came back for the next class meeting, to my distaste. And as I read Flaherty’s 5 March piece, I recalled it and wonder if I was sexually harassed–and if my students were, and I did little to aid them.