How One Professor's View On Sexual Assault Changed My Life
We are living in interesting times when it comes to language. With political correctness taking a big hold on the country, some feel that we are finally headed in the right direction, while others feel that censorship and PC culture have gone too far. I personally fall somewhere in the middle of these two opinions. While I don’t believe in crucifying people for unknowingly offending someone with their words or not being educated on what the most current PC terminology is, I also think that going out of our way to try to avoid offending someone is not a bad thing. We shouldn’t expect those around us to always say the right words, but what we can expect is for people to develop an awareness of how their words land on others. Then, when the stars align while giving it your best shot, you may very well make a habit of saying the right words at the right time.
When I was a senior in college, I took a social marketing class. My professor for this lecture was a passionate man, and you could tell he truly cared about the content he was teaching. I quickly learned that the approach he was lecturing from was about using marketing to create real and impactful social change. At one point, we were assigned a group project that forced us to create our own marketing campaign for a topic of our choice. My group chose to heighten awareness about sexual assault on college campuses.
By the end of the quarter I had found myself in therapy twice a week; one day for individual sessions and another day for a group session. After years of struggling to understand the sexual abuse I had endured at 17, I finally made the decision to work toward resolving the trauma I still held. It was a much more tumultuous and difficult journey than I had expected, but I am grateful I invested in my emotional wellbeing.
During the last quarter before graduating, I found myself in another class with the same professor from my social marketing course. By this point he knew both my name and face, though I wasn’t the most vocal or outspoken of students. One day while in class, the professor used sexual assault as an example for something, and while doing so, he referred to sexual assault victims as “survivors.” He emphasized that he did not believe in calling them victims, although he paused as a flush appeared on his cheeks. He backtracked his words and said, “If ‘survivors’ is not the right term or if I misspoke by saying that victims is the wrong term, please let me know.”
"While college is not meant to be a place where students are coddled, there was a kind of care and consideration in his words that made me feel indifferent to what he actually said, but enamored by his desire to try to say the right thing."
No one in the class spoke up, either because he had in fact said nothing wrong, or because they were too hungover from the night before to actually care about what he was saying. I was in awe and captivated by witnessing a man put such thought into his words on a topic that tends to disproportionately affect women. While college is not meant to be a place where students are coddled, there was a kind of care and consideration in his words that made me feel indifferent to what he actually said, but enamored by his desire to try to say the right thing.
After walking home from class that day, I pulled out my laptop and typed out an email to my professor. I recalled what he had said in the email and explained that regardless of what the exact right terminology was, that as a survivor of sexual assault I appreciated his effort to be as mindful as possible on the issue. I told him while I couldn’t speak for everyone, his obvious effort meant so much more than the “correct” word. The following day in class, he pulled me aside and told me that he had read my email, and that he was thankful I took the time to send it. As a father of two daughters of his own, I wasn’t surprised to see tears forming in his eyes.
On the day of graduation, I began my walk across the stage. I was delighted to look up and see my beloved professor standing at the very end of the platform, shaking each student's hand as they passed through. After grabbing my diploma from the chancellor, I continued my walk until I met my professor. Rather than shaking my hand, he pulled me in for a tight hug, and I could feel my heart swell in my chest. I knew it was likely we would never see each other again, but I also knew that neither of us would forget the other. He will always be the professor who managed to find the right words at the right time.
This post is part of a series honoring beloved teachers who make a difference with their kindness, love, and wisdom each day. Thank you to all of our educators from all of us at CircleAround.com. To read other stories in this series, please click here.