The campus I work on is run by a very conservative family. The problem is not that they are conservative. I have no problem with the fact that they are:
- a family that initiates prayer at faculty inservice and holiday dinners
- a family that posts pictures of their ministry in Africa
- a family that hosts graduations in a local church
- and a family whose elected compliance officer believes the B in LGBT stands for “biracial” (Yes, this was said by the compliance officer in a mandatory meeting regarding Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in which he warned that we didn’t have to agree with the tenets of said act, but we had to abide by them so that we don’t offend Lesbian, Gay, Biracial and Trans people because we don’t want to break the law.)
These things are not intrinsically wrong. Some of these scenarios might lead more educated individuals to believe they are ignorant (well intentioned as they might be); however, I do not intend to use this as an opportunity to shame them.
The point is this is not a religious institution, and it is in no way advertised to prospective faculty or students in this way. Students are somewhat shocked to later discover just how strict the college is about certain policies (i.e., anti-profanity policy) after they have already signed up and made their financial commitments.
As instructors, we’re expected to police students using profanity and not just in the classroom. If we walk by students outside talking on their phones or chatting with their buddies, the second they utter a profane word, we are expected to pull them aside and admonish them.
This puts many of us in an awkward position when we believe adults should be free to be adults. I have no desire to shame someone for a slip of the tongue, especially when they are talking to their friends outside. And though I do believe there is a time and a place for certain language, the extreme way the policy presents itself is a nightmare for faculty and students alike.
The night someone called “bulls**t”
Early on in the term, at the beginning of a class, I had all of the students write their names on sheets of paper and turn them in for a quiz grade. I simply wanted to make sure they understood the importance of showing up for class on time as it is our duty to train them for proper workplace behaviors.
It just so happened that this evening only 8/28 had showed up on time. After I collected the papers, I waited for the remaining students to file in up to 15 minutes late. Once everyone got settled, I began outlining the objectives of the class for the evening and then thanked the students who showed up on time for the quiz.
Students immediately got angry. They wanted to know why I had not told them there would be a quiz (granted I am under no obligation to tell them when quizzes occur). A student began arguing how unfair it was, and then he did what I had hoped he wouldn’t:
He said “This is bulls**t!”
This is the point at which I apologized and asked him to leave. Afterwards, the associate dean told me that I handled it poorly but gave no advice on how to prevent problems from occurring in the future. He suggested I work on conflict management in the coming term.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if you were ordered (per administration) to inform students that profanity would not be tolerated under any circumstance and that students would face classroom expulsion if they ignored the advice, wouldn’t you feel obligated to make an example of said student who not only used profanity but did so in an aggressive tone in front of his classmates?
Maybe I handled it wrong, but from the time I have spent teaching, I know I would have lost the entire class right then and there had I not asked him to leave.
Why I’m writing
Since I have been working for this institution, I have censored myself. Big time. I never use profanity in front of students. I’ve made boundaries clear, and I have shared little to nothing about my personal life with my students. My opinions are close to non-existent as I do not feel safe to express them to my conservative colleagues. In addition, I don’t really talk about the life I share with my partner unless someone is cool enough to understand. I am grateful for those people!
But all of this censoring is exhausting and means I need an outlet.
- So, what would you do in a situation like this?
- How would you handle the conflict?
- Do you feel comfortable to be yourself in your workplace? To share your views?