We grow up learning that we must treat our teachers and professors with respect. When I was young, I wasn’t exactly a model student. I caused trouble for teachers and had issues with authority; to some extent I still do. However, once I entered high school I began to see the value in having teachers who also treat their student with respect. I realized it wasn’t authority I had an issue with; it was the abuse of power. Lone behold I would enter University as a Sociology student, where challenging dynamics of power and inequality was our bread and butter.
In my undergraduate, I was amazed at how much my professors knew. Race, class, gender, ethics, education, health care, immigration, family, sexuality, identity, you name it. These profs knew their stuff and for the most part, they were lovely. I grew to admire and even idolize some of my professors. They were incredible people with a wealth of knowledge and seemed to enjoy spending their days with students, teaching and influencing young minds. I was like a sponge; I wanted to absorb everything, continuously stuffing it down to make room for more incoming information, and quickly organizing and filing it away in my brain. I was in love with my program.
My fourth year came around, and I realized if I wanted to get into graduate school and continue my learning, I needed reference letters. One came quite easily to me as I had fostered a relationship with her since my second year. However, my second reference letter would prove difficult as I was advised to “secure a tenure or associate professor” as opposed to sessional or CLA faculty. This was just the beginning of a workplace hierarchy I would soon loathe.
I found myself having to build networks with professors I had nothing in common with, professors who didn’t seem to care much for getting to know their students, and professors who held themselves with such legitimacy, authority, and status that It was intimidating to get to know them and terrifying to request a reference letter. I was not good at networking or “playing” the game. I felt like a fraud and I promised myself I would never do it again.
Once I entered graduate school, the selection of professors were all typically associate, full time, tenure track, or assistant professors. They are brilliant minds with much to offer young students in regards to education. I am grateful for their expertise. However, with this new “fancy” graduate program, I began to miss the elements of my undergrad. where were the bad ass professors I learned to love in my undergraduate? The shift was quite scary. You were no longer allowed to speak your mind or engage in radical activism, you were discouraged from challenging the ideas of your professors, you were very much put into a box. I felt suffocated. In many ways, it was understood that the “experts” knew best and that we were to just follow in line and learn from them. I disagree. Maybe we can learn from each other.
The worst part of it all was how community-based organizers, activists, and community researchers are regarded in higher education. There is this power dynamic, that they are not worthy of producing knowledge because they don’t have a Ph.D., or that it is “accepted” or “tolerated” but not celebrated the ways research scholars are. We do not use them in our learning, they are not in our syllabuses, and our education had become “legitimized” through scholarly, peer-reviewed,= credentialism.
I had met so many incredible community-based researchers and activist that had more to say than the academy would allow. Perspectives that scholars would never think to consider. Ideas for social justice and change that are shadowed by ‘big education’ institutional systems. It makes me sad.
I will value a full-time tenure or associate professor in the exact same way that I will value a sessional professor or a community-based researcher. I will not look up to you because you’ve gotten the chance to be published or that your office is high up and cozy in the ivory tower. I will not drop to my knees just because you hold a title. There may be many professors worth admiring, but not because they are professors; because they are worthy.
I will not pad their ego and if it is a problem that students hold them to the same regard as they do community leaders or sessional professors; then that just reinforces the problems within our academic institutions and in our society. Get over your egotistical academic privilege. We can all understand how difficult to might be to attain your Ph.D., but that doesn’t make you smarter or better than the next individual. Please understand that.
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