Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Age Discrimination at College?

So far, my experience at Mills College has been great.  It's a diverse, inclusive community with straight, gay, bi, trans, black, brown, beige, young, and older women and men, and every combination thereof (men are only in graduate programs).  While I had some concern about fitting in at my age when I started, I promptly felt comfortable and very much a part of this exemplary SF Bay Area microcosm.  I've had NO problems.   

Enter a new professor into the MBA program.  Now, this guy is at the top of his game in the non-profit world and I respect him and have learned a lot thus far.  But, I sense he doesn't like me speaking up in class.  Note that participating in class discussion is 30% of our grade, which is sizable.  I'm going to guess that he and I are about the same age, and this is one class where all the other students are young women in their twenties.  It's a small class - there's 15 of us. 

Here's what's been going on.  He skips over me every time there is more than one person with her hand raised.  When my hand is up and he gives me the nod to speak, and then another person raises her hand, he defers to her and cuts me off.  On one occasion, he straight up told me that he wanted to hear from someone else even though no one else had a raised hand.

So, I got really paranoid.  Am I the classroom blowhard?  Am I the obnoxious person that everyone groans internally when I speak?  This is my second Masters degree, so I have been in A LOT of classes and I've never faced this problem.  I have good relations with all the young women in the class and I love to hear what they say.  Many have approached me after class and have told me that they've appreciated something that I've said.  I think I'm really sensitive to classroom dynamics and discussions given I've been a lecturer myself at a State University, and have needed to mitigate classroom blowhards.

In the class after he told me he wanted to hear from someone else, I very deliberately limited my participation and took note of how many times everyone spoke.  One women spoke 12 times (she is typically very vocal - he's never told her he wanted to hear from someone else), I spoke 4 times along with 2 other women, 3 students spoke 3 times, and 2 spoke 2 times.  Again, he nodded for me to speak and then cut me off and deferred to another student who had raised her hand.  And, as always, he gave me attitude.  I have never left this class feeling upbeat or good.  I always leave feeling sad, depressed, and/or demoralized.  I have worked really hard to learn to honor and respect my feelings, rather than dismiss them.  So, I don't think I'm completely imagining this dynamic.      

But, what's going on?!  How much of this is my projection?  Is it age discrimination?  I am the first to admit that I'm mega-sensitive to specifically white men in positions of authority silencing me.  I was raised with 2 older brothers who were always heard before I was (if I even got the chance to speak).  And, I've had many, many experiences where I was granted no voice by men who boomed right over me.  In fact, I would surmise that one of the reasons I love academia so much is because I finally found an environment where I could speak, and be heard and valued.  Now, I feel like I'm being censored even in academia (by this professor only).    

I'm going to do another tally of how many times we speak up in class, keep mine to a minimum, and monitor his responses to me as compared to others.  I'll let you know the results and then decide on what action to take if he continues.  Any ideas or suggestions?  Any similar experiences?