Intersectional confessionals: Students discuss in-class experiences
November 1, 2017
Intersectional Confessionals is Intersections’ new series that highlights personal narratives from students from marginalized identities. This installment focuses on students’ encounters inside of the classroom. For more information on intersectional confessionals, read our letter from the editors.
Why I Dropped
I spent an entire year at Tulane never reading anything for a class about my heritage. I looked for and failed to find myself in every page, lecture and exam. This semester, I wanted to change that.
I registered for a course on the history of slavery and racism in the deep south, which I thought would be perfect. It only took 20 minutes into the first class of the semester for me to know I never wanted to come back.
I looked over the list of required readings we would discuss in class. For everyone else, discussions might not have been a problem, but for me, it was a nightmare.
The class would read about people like my great-grandmother, a child of a slave in Mississippi, or people like her whose names, languages and history were lost to a system of which they never wanted to be a part.
Reading the syllabus again I felt fatigued, already exhausted from imagining the countless classes that I would spend either sinking into my seat avoiding everyone’s gazes, or sitting on the edge of my seat, acting as the spokesperson for my entire race.
I did not want to leave my great-grandmother’s legacy in the hands of the class, but as the only person of color, let alone black person there, I could not, and should not have had to, hold the weight of more than two centuries of slavery, and its effects, on my shoulders.
“But I’m Korean…???”
I was sitting in class one afternoon, and I admittedly caught myself staring out of my classroom window, hoping for the minutes to pass more quickly so I could escape to some good ol’ Bruff pizza.
I tuned back into the studio lecture, where my professor was explaining a “Chinese” paper trick for an upcoming project we were working on. Whether this was authentically Chinese or just a name my professor came up with is left to be determined, but the impact of this demonstration was undeniable.
Out of the blue, she asks me, “Mark, you know this trick right?” Flabbergasted, I reply, “But I’m Korean…???”
The class erupted in laughter. I slid down even lower in my seat as the narrative my professor created transformed me from a typical student counting the minutes until the end of class into the butt of the joke.
The class’s attention returned to my professor, and any distinction between my own Korean culture and the foreign one she ascribed to me faded with their laughter.
A couple minutes later she instructed the class to squint at the box that she had made in front of the class and said, “You won’t notice much of a difference for Mark and me.”
The class again collectively chuckled. I dropped my head in my hands, bewildered as I wrestled with how to explain my frustration.
I was recently in a statistics class where, in the span of a week, my straight, cis, white, male professor managed to say two aggressively problematic and harmful things.
First, when describing his One Wave policy, he told us a lengthy story about a time when a female student had confessed to him that she had been assaulted. He said he then reported it to the school, as he is required by contract to do. According to him, she had been lying to get out of an assignment and was punished for “false reporting.” He then addressed us female students, encouraging us to be very conscious of what we choose to report to him.
Second, as he taught us about ordinal level variables, he explained, with emphasis, that gender would be a great one, “since there are only two categories, male and female.” I was only heartened by the tangible discomfort of my fellow classmates. The professor laughed uncomfortably and continued on with his lecture.
It’s not okay to assume that women engage in the false reporting of rape or to spread stories that make it seem like this is a regular occurrence. It sets an alarming and unfounded precedent. It is not okay to encourage survivors to “be careful” about what they report. It is also not okay to discount gender identities that don’t ascribe to cis-normative culture, especially in the furthering of institutional mechanisms that actively categorize people in such a way. Find some security in your masculinity.
If you want to contribute to Intersectional Confessionals, email us at [email protected].