20 May 2009


Tonight my composition class took their final exam. All composition classes take the same final exam, which faculty members in the department create. It consists of an article of five or six pages, of which students are given copies during the last class meeting before the final exam. Then, when they take the test, they're given a shorter article on a related topic. The students are asked to write an essay comparing and/or contrasting something each author says. And the students are also asked to compare what each of the writers say with their own expereinces.

The longer article, which appeared in the New York Times magazine around the time of Obama's inaguration, discusses the variety of cultures and heritages that make up his and his wife's families. The other article talks describes a man's futile effort to merge his local school district, in which nearly all of the pupils are wealthy and white, with a neighboring district that's mostly poor or working-class and black. The man pointed out that in the lifetimes of the children, the majority of the American population will be nonwhite. He said something to the effect that his district couldn't deny its children the opportunity to interact with "future Obamas."

You can imagine how well his appeal went over!

However, one of the administrators in the neighboring district, who said that such a merger would be a "logistical nightmare," said that the kids are already interacting more than most adults realize: at malls, movie theatres and such. "They don't need for us to build bridges between them," he claimed. "We're the ones who need the bridges."

That statement reflects much of my experience. When students know about my gender identity, they're interested, on average, for about five seconds. Then they want to know what grades I "gave" them on their latest assignment. If they don't know, they seem surprised when they learn of my identity. They may ask a few questions. Then it's on to other things.

On the other hand, some of the faculty members and administrators, who congratulate themselves on having voted for Obama, act is if my identity doesn't matter. Next thing I know, I find myself accused of things I hadn't even heard of, or having my willingness to work hard and help people, as well as my other better qualities, used against me. That is exactly what happened in the position in which I worked last year; it's practically a rerun of how I was drummed out of the last college in which I worked.

However, the students in my composition class--the one everybody has to take--made it a point of telling me how much they enjoyed the class. Now, some of them may have been buttering me up. But I think at least a few meant what they said. "You are such a good professor," one explained, "because you are who you are--a joyful and caring person."

The young woman who said that is active in her family's church. More often than not, she's wearing a cross pendant. And she's not shy about her beliefs.

But she likes me as a prof. So did another student, who also said that I "dress much better than the other professors." This student is thinking about taking design courses, which would mean going to another college. However, she said she would like to stay at this college because "it's suited me otherwise."

"How so?"

"Well, it's nearby. My family doesn't want me to go far away. And my courses have been good.

She, born in this country to Mexican parents, lives in a part of Queens that's almost entirely black. The college's student body is about 80 percent black. Oftentimes, after school she goes to Richmond Hill, where some of her friends and relatives live among multitudes of Indian-Guyanese people.

That is a typical day for her: one spent crossing bridges. Hopefully, I've done something to make the journey more fulfilling.

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