Section: Opinion

Kenyon Q’s: How to address rudeness

Dear Hannah Lee,

How do I deal with rude professors?

Signed,

Rude or Crude but No Clue What to Do

Dear No Clue,

Excellent question! After nearly four years in this ivory tower on a hill, I have studied professors just as much as my coursework and I must admit that I also have no clue. I came to Kenyon with the thought that every college professor was a cross between Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets Society and that old guy in The Paper Chase: inspiring, creative, brilliant and a little bit terrifying. To be honest, I have yet to encounter anyone like this at Kenyon.

Many of us see our professors as mentor figures who, at a minimum, challenge us to become better thinkers. At best, they inspire us to emerge from college as stronger members of society. Numerous such professors exist, particularly at Kenyon. That said, how should we handle the inevitable character or two who belittles our answer in front of the entire class or rips into our essay during office hours? I’m feeling the sting even as I imagine it. Kenyon is full of perfectionists. When anyone, particularly an authority figure, calls us out or our work for being imperfect in a less-than-kind way, it’s a blow to our egos. 

The go-to response in most cases is to call your mom and complain for half an hour, because as you know, your mom will always think that you’re her brilliant little doodle-bug. Next, do some sort of feel-good activity, like baking, playing an instrument or making a friend laugh — anything that uses one of your skills to remind you that you’re not completely worthless.

This should clear your head and boost your morale. For me, a mental breather lets me approach whatever that professor said  with a fresh perspective. Maybe I actually spoke too quickly in class, and my short-sighted answer wasted everyone’s time. Or perhaps that essay really wasn’t my best work, and my professor recognized that I was capable of  better.

I got off to a rocky start with one professor during my first semester at Kenyon. She shut down my answers in class and told me that she’d never known a student to miss a class for October Break (hey, I was a first year! I didn’t know any better). However, as I visited her office hours over the course of the semester, I discovered that she cared about me and my work. She spent many sessions discussing drafts with me and ultimately made me a better writer in the process. By the semester’s end, she was my favorite professor.

Sometimes it’s easy to interpret a professor’s candor or challenge as an attack on our own abilities. Our professors are busy people, researching important things, molding future leaders’ minds and all that jazz. They may not always sugarcoat their words for you. Your best bet, for your own sanity and self-preservation, is to take it as commentary, not criticism, and move on. This is a good practice for the future, too.

Not everyone you work with in life will be all sunshine and smiles; sometimes you’ll encounter some downright prickly characters.

Let it roll off you the best that you can. Remember that your time as a student is made up of multiple professors, classes and semesters.

Try not to let one or two sour your experience.

What are your burning questions? Don’t know what to do about your hookup’s return from a semester abroad? Trying to rein in reactions to out-of-control email threads? Submit anonymously on tinyurl.com/kenyonqs or ask Hannah Lee at leidyh@kenyon.edu and she can offer the written equivalent of a hug.

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