There I sat, taking notes in my Tuesday afternoon business class; my professor discussing the moral impact of doing things for the wrong reasons and making others think you are doing them for the right reasons. As an activist, I found the topic at hand to interesting, to say the least. That was until said professor interjected, “Take ‘Caitlyn’ Jenner for example,” he said with Caitlyn in air quotes, “Bruce, he’s in the news all the time for this.”
“Ummmm excuse me but HER name is Caitlyn. She’s a she.” I replied.
“This isn’t a gender and sexuality class,” came the professor’s response.
“Oh it’s about to be!” I snarked back with the loudest reply I’ve ever made in a class.
*corrects professor on gender pronouns of Trans Folk*
Professor: this isn't a gender and sexuality course
Me: OH ITS ABOUT TO BE
— Cole Ledford (@ColeLedford11) January 12, 2016
Now granted, he did apologize after class and initiated a productive conversation about my feelings and how he would consider those in the future, and still I couldn’t help but be perplexed by the entire situation; as someone who is responsible for educating adults at a degree of higher learning, how are we employing someone, who speaks with no respect for other disciplines, and with no regard for evolving societal norms. How are we allowing our tuition dollars be spent on the salary of those who do not educate themselves enough to, at the very least, respect the beliefs of all their students?
With approximately 12% of the United States population of college students identifying with some aspect of the LGBTQI+ alphabet soup, currently the highest in recorded history,a mny college professors are teaching classrooms more diverse than when they first started teaching.
Collegiate professors are assumed to be of the highest academic achievement and caliber. We are conditioned to hold them with genuine respect and authority in and out of the classroom, but when professors fail to continue their own education, or worse, use their authority to incorrectly state facts, opinions, or in this case verbiage, it is the students who suffer as a result. Take for example the possibility that there was a transgender student in my classroom and they heard this professor’s non-affirming language directed at Caitlyn Jenner and her identity. This student would not only feel discouraged to participate in the discussion or any in the future, but may lose interest entirely in the subject and miss a chance to further their education despite paying for it.
With all the progress that gets made, we still face a steps forward, one step back dillema. Society as a whole has taken a position that does not entirely welcome members of the LGBTQI+ community with men like Ted Cruz running for president on blatant hate rhetoric alone or Marco Rubio promising to repeal marriage equality nationwide by appointing more Supreme Court Justices, all of those who identify as LGBTQ+ live with the fear all of our rights could be taken away by one rogue political leader, it’s not a far stretch to live that fear daily in our classrooms and on our college campuses.
It is absolutely imperative we as a society work to constantly make every student, and citizen for that matter, feel welcome in every situation. At colleges, we must call upon our University Leaders to construct programming and educational training for our faculty, staff, and students on how to respect diversity and embrace the societal change that we have fought so hard for in order to make every person on our campuses feel safe and welcome.
Take my university, The Ohio State University, for example. Ohio State has a phenomenal program I have been fortunate enough to partake in call Open Doors Training which many student organization and student employees partake in as well as some faculty and staff. This training shows everything from TED talks to student created videos on how to be culturally and societally sensitive. While this program is phenomenal for educating the students who partake in it, I still hear things on our campus from a drunk passerby yelling a gay expletive at me to a student not feeling welcome in a certain Greek organization based on his race or ethnicity or again, my professor not respecting gender identities and pronouns. While my university is making great strides and efforts, it is not enough here, or at any university, until every student, faculty, and staff has been educated on how to properly respect every member of our campus community so no one is hurt intentionally, or unintentionally as my professor did.
Ultimately, it is on each and every one of us to fight for equality and fair treatment for those who can’t or may not be ready to stand up and do so. Whether it’s wearing a button on your outfit that shows you are an ally, sharing a post on social media to show your support in the fight for justice, or standing up in your business class to correct a professor on a gender pronoun to make sure everyone is respected for who they are.
Maybe you don’t wear a red cape or have a giant S on your chest, but when you stand up and show support, you can save a life and you are a superhero.