Tools for Elul: Susan Indovina
Approximately six years ago, my Community College 19 year old female
student grudgingly shared a dilemma: Whether or not to drop a business course, not because of academic frustration, but because she was being "annoyed" by an older student, an older "man" in the class.
As a former high school English teacher and later as an instructor of young adults,
I became super aware of student "moods" which always impacted classroom
achievement or behavior. Small annoyances when allowed to fester often became disruptions. Therefore, Annie's "dilemma" was a red flag.
After some gentle prodding, quietly beautiful, fastidious, "A" student Annie
shared her intimidation by this "man" as he continually flirted via embarrassing
comments in their group. However, when she described an incident during a classroom break, when he whispered in her ear and then patted her on her behind...
WHAT???!!! This was not merely "annoying"...I became angrily indignant...
If Not NOW...WHEN?
Could the instructor to move her to another group? No. She couldn't talk to a male instructor. I then diplomatically suggested: Let's talk to the Dean to seek advice. What can be done to avoid dropping this class? In Annie's reticent manner, but somewhat relieved, she agreed to my request.
I promptly escorted her to the Dean's Office whereby Head Secretary, wise grandmother type, without knowing the issue, immediately said, "The Dean will see you now."
We sat down. I then summarized Annie's dilemma unknowing how this male Dean would react. Apparently, after having been raised in a strict Catholic school setting, Annie seemed to feel comforted. Even more of her fears poured out when she revealed that this "man" more than once asked her if he could walk her to her car.
This Dean, this symbol of male authority, calmly reassured Annie that she need not drop the class, that he would ask the instructor, without referring to her, to change group members. If the situation didn't change, he would intervene.
MOST IMPORTANTLY...with "tough love," he told this young woman that she needed to aggressively "stand up for herself." This male authority figure then repeated 5 examples of specific words to use to stop this "man's" aggressive behavior towards her.
Two days later, after class, I inquired, "Did you drop the class?" No. The instructor moved the group members. AND...Using the Dean's exact words, Annie finally told this "man:"
"I don't like your words or behavior towards me. Please don't talk to me again." To which he replied, "I was only teasing."
Bravo, Annie. She effusively thanked me.
Tools that she will use, if needed, in other circumstances.
IF NOT NOW...WHEN?
-Susan Indovina, Congregant