Care and Institutions — from Sean

I am not a fan of the forest metaphor. Partially because I’ve spent time in forests and did not enjoy it at all and partially because it drifts too much towards the whole “noble savage” thing for my tastes. 

I’m not saying that the piece is bad or wrong. It makes many valid points, I just don’t care for the metaphor. 

It has been my experience that you cannot look for any care from the institution. A few stories:

Eight or nine years ago, one of our adjuncts was physically attacked by a former student. The student had been suspended for academic reasons and blamed my colleague. So, the student assaulted him at the end of a class. 

What did the administration do? Not a single (expletive) thing. They didn’t even offer my colleague counseling until our area coordinator made so much noise they couldn;t ignore him. 

The next term, my colleague was teaching three sections of public speaking. Guess who was in one of them? Yes, the student who attacked him. My colleague walked out and refused to teach the class. 

Added bonus: this happened before the online sexual harassment and workplace violence prevention training started, so we were visited by human resources about these topics at the next department meeting. We asked if the college would back us up if a student attacked us and we defended ourselves. 

They did not give a straight answer, which, to be clear, means “no”. 


Then in 2018, several of our instructors were having issues with students: one was being stalked, another was threatened, a third was being harassed by students, so our department chair organized a panel with four people from counseling and public safety. Let me boil down their commentary.

Person one (public safety): Immediately get security involved. Document everything. File a report the day it happens. 

Person two (not sure where this person was from but they had the flat, emotionless affect of a serial killer): Whatever you do, do not get security involved. 

Person three: You need to get in touch with your department chair if this is an issue.*

Person four (this is paraphrasing, but it’s what he meant): Students are acting up because none of you can teach.

So, we don’t have anything that resembles coherence at the administration level for safety concerns. We aren’t the only campus like this. I’ve heard tales from a few other campuses. 

*At one point, the official policy was that we couldn;t contact campus security if an incident took place until we had cleared it with our department chair. My chair announced at a meeting that he gave all of us permission to do what we needed to. 

Yes, these are extreme examples and not everyday occurrences by any means, but I’ve also seen the administration screw with faculty and staff who have lost a loved one or who are on leave.  

My point is that the administration will do nothing, unless you find someone higher up in the power structure to advocate for you. You need to establish relationships with colleagues (as difficult as that can be sometimes) so that when things go wrong you have a safe place to turn for advice and comfort. 

I do not know how we can hold institutions accountable for their (lack of) action. In many ways, I’m concerned for my own future at LaGuardia because my current area coordinator is stepping down at the end of June, and the new coordinator is… not tech friendly**, and therefore, does not see much value in what I do. 

I’m just tambling now, so I’m going to stop, and I apologize because I feel that this might not be exactly on topic. 

**And in the year 2023, not being tech friendly shouldn’t fly, but this is one of those “I’ve been teaching this way since the Pleistocene” people. It’s frustrating. 

4 thoughts on “Care and Institutions — from Sean

  1. Katina Rogers (she/her)

    Oof, the issue of students harassing/stalking professors is so complicated. This piece (by a CUNY alum) might be of interest: It would be interesting to consider these issues through the lens of the Project Nia/Barnard video, in terms of accountability and the possibility for transformation. But thinking about that video as well, I have questions about who carries the load for ensuring that accountability, and for doing the really tough work of helping people move towards transformative justice? It can’t be the faculty member themselves if they are the victim of harassment. I don’t know that this can be a bottom-up kind of support, the type of groundswell that we see in mutual aid. It maybe has to be administration/some embodiment of the institution—but as you’ve suggested, the institution writ large is not set up in a way to attend to those kinds of needs. So what do we do? Where are our possible spaces of leverage and power to make the system even a little bit better?

    1. Sean Patrick Palmer Post author

      The video showed people doing important work. Work that can change lives for the better, but I have to admit that there was a part of me that thought. “Well, it’s too late for the people that have been hurt.”

      I mean, I’m old enough to have been hurt badly (and to hurt others… I’m no angel), and, while I don’t feel anger or hate over most of those wounds, the reality is that I fon’t want those people back in my life. If one were to come up to me to say they were sorry. I’d probably say okay and walk away. I just don’t want to engage.

      In my examples, the faculty that have been attacked, stalked, and/or harrassed don’t have ther ability to not engage with those who hurt them because the institution FORCES them to engage. That needs to be remedied. I wish I knew how. I mean, clear policies would be a start.

  2. Brieanna Scolaro (They)

    Sean, it makes me think about what strategies are even possible, and what the potential is for retaliatory actions or consequences.

    Sometimes it feels the only thing that can be done is to expose injustices and potentially shame and blame a university or institution back. Our power is truly in our collective power.

    But these systems do not care for the human cost of their actions. I have heard many heartbreaking stories also of times where assault occured in an academic setting and all the institutions power was user to quiet this information and prevent it from ever being brought up again. Where is the care there when you are legally obligated to never speak on the issue again, and those individuals go scott free with their image in tact. Again..heartbreaking.

    One thing to share is that closure doesnt have to always be interpersonal, and may not be possible. Perhaps closure in many ways, especially when dealing with abusive systems, families, friends, etc, is at an intrapersonal level.

  3. Adrianna Rios (she/her)

    Sean, thanks for always sharing your experiences! Reading your post has been a reminder of my own naiveness and wishful thinking. It’s so frustrating to read how precarity seems to always sneak in and occlude care. I guess all we have left is to try and hone in that collective power (like Brie mentioned). Even if it leads to nothing, the best we can do is try and perhaps little by little it could lead to change.

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