Saturday, April 14, 2007

No date at the dinner

Okay, just need to vent about a little advice-seeking I read in the Chronicle. I love Ms. Mentor (Emily Toth) and her column, but I am thinking Ms. Mentor's bag of letters has gotten a little light if she needed to respond to this letter:

Junior selectees for next year's [undergraduate researcher] program are also invited to the banquet, along with their faculty mentors but neither the juniors nor their mentors are allowed to bring companions. That creates a very awkward situation in the case of a young professor advising a student of the opposite sex. The advisers sit with their students, and with the formal dress and the presence of so many couples, it's difficult to avoid the illusion that one is on a bizarre sort of date.

I mean, really, this is keeping someone up at night? I can understand concerns by new young faculty about whether you should have a drink with a student, whether you invite groups of students to your home, and how to handle the occasional student come-on. But whether to attend a formal event at your school and sit with your student, because it looks like a date? To whom? It looks like a professional event. No one is confused.

The writer goes on to say that she dressed in "dowdy attire" to avoid confusion, which I assume means no cleavage? She says that the situation is perhaps so dire, even now that she is "grayer and has tenure," that she might not go if she does not get to bring her spouse or partner.

Perhaps I am too old, fat, lesbian, and adult-feeling for this "concern," but I think that the writer needs to catch a clue. I attend all sorts of academic events without my partner. I have been confused for lots of people, including heterosexual spouses of male faculty members and administrators (and therefore, a straight girl), and it is no big deal. I even got asked by a new Dean at her welcome picnic whether I might want to meet her son, who was single and also interested in sports like me. ( I politely explained that while we might have sports in common, we also probably shared our desire for women.)

Ms. Mentor does well to tell her writer to stop borrowing trouble and worrying about what other people think about her. I would also suggest that perhaps the writer needs to start seeing herself as more of an adult, a mentor, and a professor. The boundaries are clear, if you keep them that way. If you don't, you have bigger problems than one formal dinner event.

Props to Ms. Mentor, who was so much nicer than me in her response. I do hope she can get back to more interesting and challenging questions.

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