Project for Open Voices: “Letter To My Professor”

The Thrill is proud to feature personal narratives courtesy of the Project for Open Voices. Today’s essay was authored anonymously for POV’s new publication. POV is always accepting new submissions, so if you want to share your story, email openvoicessubmissions@gmail.com — if you prefer to submit anonymously, the login password is kenyoncollege.

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I just wanted to thank you. Because of you, fifty other students on this campus have my name and my face memorized. That’s all they will ever care to know about me. Because of you they can spot me in crowded parties and outside the Mather breezeway. When I happen to bump into these random individuals – whose names I don’t remember because you weren’t as nice to them as you were to me – they nod knowingly as I try to introduce myself. “I remember you. You were in my class right? Hahaha!”

Thank you professor. Because of you, I don’t have to go through the extra hassle of introducing myself or genuinely meeting new people. That’s all overrated anyway. Why would I want anyone to look beyond my identity as a student of color or to get over how ethnic and interesting my name sounds? As you were working on memorizing our names you asked John or Jack – I, like you, don’t remember their names either – what sport they played, what their major was. When you found that you couldn’t quite get the pronunciation of my name correct, however, you didn’t care to ask about my major or whether I saw the baseball game. You were more interested in what country my parents had immigrated from. One of the few times you ever asked me to do anything in class, it was to help you pronounce Indian names. Remember how I told you I wasn’t Indian? It’s okay though. I understand, professor. You were confused. I just look so ethnic and I have such an interesting name. How were you supposed to remember that not all brown people hail from India? Especially since you also had to remember that John was a pitcher on the baseball team or that Sally had a sister?

So thanks again professor, for spending most of our class days reminding me of how different I really am. For showing me how the big aspects of my identity as a student here aren’t my major, or my extracurriculars, or my accomplishments as a Kenyon student. It’s the origins of my brown skin and my ethnic name that are most important. Thank you for reminding me that my ethnicity will always be the first, and probably the only, aspect of my identity most people will care to notice. What would I have done without you?

5 responses

  1. Excellent! I think this should be sent to allemp!
    No, it’s horrible.But it still should be sent to allemp.
    For some reason it reminds me of the confusion when my grad profs, who clearly had only remembered women’s names in years previous b/c there were so few, could not keep the 75% of my incoming class who were women straight in their minds (despite each course only having 10-18 people in them!). I was confused with anyone who had light skin and straight hair, whether it was blond or red, whether it was short (mine was ass-long). Oh, wait, I was confused w/someone who had curly hair as well. I kid you not.
    What I’m thinking based on that is, good thing there weren’t 6 of you in that class, or that professor would be doomed. Oh, wait, that would be good. S/he would have to look past the skin. But considering I can count the number of brownskinned students I’ve had at Kenyon on my fingers, that would be unlikely.
    I hope the professor reads your post and learns.
    I hope it is an old professor, and will retire soon.
    I hope that no young professors are that rude, clueless, or transparently failing at their job.
    I wonder what we can do about this! It’s an embarrassment.

    • Re: mixing people up –
      Some people (like me) are just awful with faces and names. I mix up people who have roughly the same skin color/hair color combo all the time unless I deal with them on a one-on-one basis. It really has nothing to do with sexism / racism for a lot of people.

      • Yes, there is a biological condition in which faces are not well-recognized. I believe my son has it. But it is clearly impossible for 75% of the male Cornell professors in my department to all have that biological condition, and none of the female professors.

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