Tuesday, February 14, 2006

hidden in plain sight

For the first several years of graduate school, I was a relatively high profile person. I attended job talks, professional discussions, and social gatherings, held elected office in various departmental organizations, etc. After a few years pretty much all of the faculty could connect my face to my name and even people not in my field would ask me in the elevator what I'd thought of the latest faculty search possibilities. This was all terribly flattering as well sa professionally educational.

Then I cut off most of my hair and sequestered myself with my books and computer, visiting campus only when essential. Today was one of those days. Its very amusing high points:

1) while checking my e-mail in the graduate student lounge whisper to each other "who do you suppose she is? She looks too old to be a graduate student, but she's not dressed like a prof. Is she even in our department?"

2) hearing two other graduate students discuss #3 in the elevator

3) unintentionally eavesdropping on two history faculty members discussing the relative merits of a third

4) again, very unintentionally listening to two other faculty members discuss which graduate students they felt should be expelled from the program. (Fortunately my name was not among them.)

Now, the first two stories were amusing but not surprising. At my stage of the game I have next to no contact with first years and while they might possibly have heard my name, they've no reason to know what I look like.

The latter two instances left me puzzled as to an appropriate reaction, other than walking away, which I couldn't. (Long story) None of these faculty are in my field, and I'm reasonably sure that I've never exchanged more than a "good morning" with one of them. The other three surprised me - not only that they would have such discussions in a public place, but that none of them recognized me as a grad student, even if they'd forgotten my name.

Any suggestions?


Hugh said...

Snigger obliquely, while covering your mouth and nose with your jacket, then tiptoeing away.

harriet said...

I'm in a similar situation vis-a-vis my department. In the last year, I've been a little more visible because of teaching and giving papers. When the students in my department meet me, I inevitably get one of those, "Oh, I've heard about you" reactions that makes one wonder what exactly has been heard. That faculty story is appalling. If I had some confidant among the faculty (particularly if said person was the chair), I might mention that it concerned you without stating the names of those involved. Although, I have to say, that I'm kind of partial to Hugh's answer.

Alison said...

What have I always wanted to do in such situations? Say very loudly "Well what *I* think is..." and then give them as outrageous a suggestion as possible. If they object, look innocent and say that you assumed this was a public conversation.

Of course, the closest I've ever gotten to this was with strangers - someday get Joe to tell you the "and that's why I hate white people" story.

In general, I stand there awkwardly and try to look like a piece of statuary.

Rob said...

Yikes. Situations 3 and 4 simply should never be discussed when not behind closed doors or in at least a semi-private location, like a table in a coffee shop. And even then, caution should be used. The only exception would be if these professors could discuss situation 3 in front of said third faculty member, which I sort of doubt they would do.

What I find so funny is that high school students would know this is improper behavior. I guess obtaining a doctorate does not necessarily make one become "smart." :-)

I'd do nothing but continue to maintain your distance. Those professors are creating an unfortunate quagmire that need not involve you, my scholarly friend. There are times to stand up for your values, but until you finish up the degree I'd say this is not one of those times. Just my opinion! Good luck.

tommyspoon said...

I'll refrain from my usual academe-bashing and simply say this: If these are the best examples of rude behavior that your department has to offer then I encourage you to pursue an MFA in Acting. The things I saw and heard would make your hair stand on end.

Um, tommyspoon? That was academe-bashing.


John B. said...

Furthering my belief that should-be-private conversations held in public places by academics would get most public or private sector business people fired or sued if uttered in the office place.

Oh, and as for "who do you suppose she is? She looks too old to be a graduate student, but she's not dressed like a prof. Most women I know would have turned around and slapped the little buggers who said you looked old.

Drewster said...

Since when do you wear your cloak of invisibility in campus elevators? Not smuggling dragons or hippogryphs are you?

I find this kind of information gathering most intersesting. Being in both management and artistic sides of theater in a constant flux, I constantly hear things said directly to me about one side or the other.

The best thing to do is just keep it all to yourself, smile and nod.

I like the suggestion of mentioning the situation you encountered without naming names. That way, the faculty could all get a friendly reminder that the elevator walls have ears.