5 thoughts on “Dealing with offensive comments in seminar

  1. i’m very much for establishing group norms for respectful criticizing or objecting to another person’s behavior or words.

    whether or not that has been done, insulting or disrespectful comments can still crop up unexpectedly and offend others, and should be dealt with as soon as possible and appropriately.

    i believe the lecturer should stop and express her own discomfort and polite objection to the comment heard by the class.

    it certainly is not cruel to honestly but respectfully respond with something like: ‘i find your comment offensive and inappropriate for this setting. you are expected to find and use respectful language here, even when referring to a person or action you dislike or disapprove of.’

  2. By making this a theme from the beginning, perhaps it would be better to ask the class what they think of when they hear “ripping [ ] a new one” and what they thought of when they heard his remark. Asking him to reexamine what he said, in the light of other reactions, and then asking him to find an inoffensive way to say it might be more instructive than telling him anything because it gives him the responsibility of correcting himself.

    So sad, but true, that when a woman is in charge of anything, she is subject to the “Oh, mom.” reaction. Better to let others address it, so that they also get practice challenging such expressions in a way that feels appropriate for their generation, while the professor gets an opportunity to learn more about her students’ perceptions.

  3. I realize there’s a larger point here, but with regard to the specific anecdote I’m mildly surprised at the relative homogeneity of the responses to the informal Facebook poll: half the people thought the situation had been handled correctly and the others were united in thinking the student should have been challenged publicly. No one polled shared the grad student’s reaction?

  4. Wow, how dense am I that the rape aspect never occurred to me before. I believe the first time I encountered the phrase was in print and my thought was that the threat had two parts 1) “I am going to take my hands and tear a hole in you the way one might tear a hole in a piece of cloth, i.e., either by pulling apart a slit or by ripping out a small area via a pinch” and 2) “Aside from the pain this will induce, the obvious problem with this for you is that you will have two assholes and the attendent hygiene/trouser deployment issues ever after.”

    I often have trouble reining it in (being a voluable, venty, colorful, anxious, irritated, angry, tired, grumpy, critical, offended, silly, rude etc.* sort of person). It’s helpful to have structure to aid that and it’s really great when the structure is up front so that I’m more likely to avoid making someone uncomfortable rather than trying to rectify having done so.

  5. Oh, and that’s one reason I really value this blog and its comment policy: It gives me occasion to be restrained which does carry over to other contexts to some extent.

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