My first semester in graduate school, I was thrown in the deep end. Working at a large commuter state school, receiving funding, I was put to work for Awesome Professor as a TA in the US survey class. There were 570 students and 3 TAs: me, Smelly Guy, and Creepy John. One thing that made Awesome Professor so Awesome is that he worked individually with me whenever I ran into trouble... and he required the three TAs to spread their office hours out over the week for maximum availability. Consequently, I didn't have to spend too much time with Smelly Guy or with Creepy John. In fact, it took me almost the entire term to learn why Creepy John was particularly creepy.
During the final exam, we were proctoring and collecting students' blue books, and Creepy John started to make small talk. It was common knowledge that I was traveling to India over the winter break for my first trip there. CJ asked where I was to travel, what I would be doing. As a young student with a pierced nose turned in her test, CJ asked me if I'd ever considered piercing my nose, suggesting I could get it done in India pretty easily. "No," I replied. When a tattooed student turned one in, he asked if I planned to get a tattoo while in India. "No."
"What about a toe ring?" Now, I had
considered that. I had a fake one which I wore occasionally, and the thought of getting a permanent one was intriguing. At this admission, CJ perked up considerably.
Come to find out later on that CJ was notorious around the TA office for his interest in the feet, hair, and other extremities of the female TAs. He had offered to paint toe nails, to give foot massages, to brush hair (he repeatedly told me how lustrous my hair looked during the two semesters I spent preggers) for any of us.
Looking back, I wouldn't quite consider this a hostile work environment issue, mostly 'cuz we all openly laughed at him and his various fixations and he never had any real power over anyone.
But this gets at a very real situation in grad school: the women's protection grapevine. I was on both sides of it during my time at the University: being warned which professors to avoid ("He's a boob starer," "He's a butt pincher") and telling the newbies the same information. Most were harmless, although one woman did tell me never to meet with a particular prof with the door shut. Nor to wear skirts when I went to class with him. One young woman, when going over her schedule with two more senior grad students, was informed that she'd signed up for three classes in one term from known department pervs. "You've hit the dirty old man trifecta!" one woman told her.
I know this was not unique to my institution. And that's just sad.
Labels: teaching, travels