Wednesday, October 27, 2010


A student hugged me today...

A little backstory is needed:

A few weeks ago, said student (we'll call him Huggy Harry) completely bombed a speech. The way he acted, I believed that he didn't take it seriously; I even asked HH if he thought the class was a joke. Beyond that, HH committed one of my big No-nos. I had made it incredibly clear that they weren't supposed to do X, and he did it several times in the speech. How did I know it was incredibly clear? When HH did it (the first time anyway) there was an AUDIBLE gasp in the classroom. When he was done, I heard a student say to the person sitting next to him, "REALLY?" After class I read him the riot act. I think he was about to cry once I was done. And obviously, he failed the speech.

Back to today:

I was passing back the next speech, and he picked his up. He hung around as I finished returning work to other students. This isn't unusual and two other students stayed back to ask questions. After everyone else left, I asked HH what he needed, since he was closest to me, as I was writing myself a reminder note for the next class. As I turned to face him, he enveloped me in a hug (he's quite a bit larger than me). I pulled back immediately (and was very happy that there were two other students, one male and one female, still there) and asked why he was hugging me. He pointed to his paper and said "You gave me an A!"

Sirens and red flashing lights went off. I explained:

No, I didn't give him anything. He had earned it (and he had; obviously I scared the shit out of him the first time, because the next speech was much better and he seemed to take it much more seriously). I pointed out where he improved, and where he still had room for improvement, then directed him to the door so I could speak with the other students who were waiting.

Has this happened to anyone else? I imagine the fact that I am a woman and younger had something to do with it, but this is the first time I've been hugged...


  1. Oh. My. God.

    This identical thing happened to me... when I was TAing in Speech 101!! I wonder if there is something about impressionable young freshmen tackling the intimidating prospect of public speaking.

    This particular student was very cozy with everyone. He put his arm around me at one point and I had to push him away. He came to all my office hours "just to talk." He sat close and moved his chair closer. That's when the arm thing happened. I sent an email to my supervising professor and stopped holding my office hours in private -- began holding them in the lounge.

    Then, one day, he asked to speak to me in class while everyone was doing peer review. There, right in front of the class (who, granted, weren't paying a lot of attention, but still), he confided in me that his roommate was gay and it was freaking him out. And he hugged me.

    I pushed him away. I reported it. I told him I was uncomfortable about it. There was a 3 week period in which NOTHING HAPPENED on the University level. Then, out of nowhere, I was called in to meet with the student's Resident Hall Assistant. Said RA showed up TO MY CLASS and asked everyone to leave. Then, in my empty classroom, he arranged for me to CONFRONT my student. Student began sobbing.

    Afterward, the chair of the dept asked to see me. She accused me of making it all up. She told me to "get my shit together" and "stop fucking around." Oh, and to "learn boundaries." She suggested that she knew people from my home department and could get me kicked out of my program if I made similar stories up again.


    It was the single. worst. teaching experience EVER. I had nightmares about it the whole semester. I still shudder thinking about it.

  2. In years past, I tolerated lots of huggy behavior. Now, I don't ever touch students. I never even give a student a pat on the back for a job well done. Why? Sexual harassment shit. If I give Sensitive Sam a pat on the back, I might have the Dean of Students all over my ass.

    The only exception I make is for those students who initiate a handshake, but I don't even tolerate all of those.

    This is sad, but it's the reality.

    Bubbasquatch out.

  3. Wow, I had a similar thing happen to me. I was teaching our Public Speaking class 2 years ago, and a student who really struggled, both with speeches and exams, hugged me after I returned a good grade that he had earned. I am a relatively small woman, and he was a very large football player. I was stunned. I didn't hug back, nor did I push him away. I just kind of froze in place. That's never happened since, and if it happens again, I'd probably have the same reaction - just freeze.

  4. Yeesh. I am the only person who thinks that while an unwanted hug is probably undesirable, it is certainly not a reportable offense? I was the recipient of an unwanted hug from an excitable undergraduate once (he had just gotten a fellowship I had helped with). I stepped back, awkwardly patted the kid on the shoulder to show there were no hard feelings, and told him how happy I was for him. I put hugs into the category of undesirable behavior that should be gently but firmly discouraged, like calling me by my first name when I haven’t invited you to, or stopping by my office when you haven’t made an appointment. But going through the same elaborate dealings I go though to report plagiarism seems a touch unwarranted.

    In seven years, my very fatherly Ph.D. advisor hugged me twice: once when I got my first grant, and once the day I defended. Both hugs were extremely platonic, and special enough to me that I remember them still. He wasn’t a particularly warm man, and they meant a lot. Not to be touchy-feely, but I hate to think that we live in a world when those hugs could not have been offered for fear of a harassment suit.

    And while I have never hugged students, if I know them well enough, I may clap them on the back. I likely get away with more because I am a female (I am well aware that my male colleagues feel they must be much more careful) but it bothers me that we are all so terrified of lawsuits that we sacrifice any sign of personal warmth.

  5. Prof G, was the hug inappropriate? Yes. Was the hug report worthy? No, not on its own. I think that the issue here was the continued inappropriate behavor which culminated in a hug. The student inappropriately touched Acad Monkey, who spurned his, for lack of a better word, advances.

    As a general rule, I let people have one free "pass" since not everyone has the same social boundaries. It is my responsibility to correct the action (i.e. "Please don't touch me anymore that behavior is unacceptable."). Any further touches are fair game for further action since I have informed the party that the behavior isn't appropriate. Once you've set the line it's important to stick to your guns. If you don't then you lose credibility and often the undesirable behavior escalates again. Gavin de Becker talks about this concept in his book "The Gift of Fear". It's an important read for everyone.

    A hug isn't a boobie/booty touch but it can be just as unnerving if accompanied by other threatening behavior.

    I've clapped my share of backs and high fived hundreds of hands but those behaviors were never accompanied invasion of person space nor arms around other parties (OK. OK. Crazy Math Spouse doesn't count).

    The keys to the issue are context and prior correction of the behavior.

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  7. Didn't the administrator who handles sexual harassment at your university give you the annual speech about, "No touching at work"? No hugs allowed! Pats on the back aren't even allowed. No free passes!

    An unwanted hug is a form of sexual harassment. If you can see one coming, back away. If you get caught by surprise, say this out loud, if you have time. It can help to struggle like a cat, whenever one tries to put one in a carrier to go to the vet, or like Angela Merkel did when George W. Bush gave her that uninvited back rub.

    Welcome to 2010, we now live in a world in which hugs of any kind, for any reason, must never be offered between faculty and students, either way, for fear of a harassment suit. Always have office hours with the door open. Never answer anonymous love e-mail from students. Don't think that being the same sex as the student offers any safety.

    @Academic Monkey: That RA had absolutely no reason, business, or authority whatsoever disrupting your class. You had grounds to call security and have him removed. The chair of the department was also completely out of line, particularly so since she's supposed to be on your side. Also, if those are exact quotes, someone should introduce her to the concept of professional behavior.

    Yes, it's all very sad, but there's been far, far too much abuse.

  8. I would hate to be hugged by any of my professors, and I would assume that it works both ways. Some people are just weirdly touchy-feely and might not mean it to offend, so like Froderick said, one free pass with a firm warning not to do it again. It's not just about the lawsuits or harassment or whatever. Some people just aren't comfortable being hugged by mere acquaintances.

    There are other ways of expressing personal warmth without actually touching another person without their permission. What may seem warm to the touchy-feely person might very well be unwelcome to a person with more personal boundaries. Compassion in speech and action goes a lot farther than hugs, anyway. I've had my share of false hugs from people who weren't really glad to see me again, or didn't sincerely wish me a Merry Christmas, or whatever the occassion. Those hugs seemed a lot less warm than some of the kind acts that professors have done for me over the years without ever physically touching me. I would venture that a sincere statement of thanks would be more welcome to most profs than a hug.

  9. I don't think I've ever been hugged by a student but I've certainly had them come on to me and even ask me on dates. Then there are the ones who like to hang out during office hours and chat in an odd way. I've also had them stare at my breasts in class which explains my fondness for cardigan sweaters. In all such cases, I generally pretend I've no idea what's going on and brush it off.

  10. My friend was once almost sexually harassed by a prof in a series of escalating events. First, after my friend got a haircut he said - and I am not making this up - "nice haircut". Then, the next week he was showing a video in class and sat down beside her. Sure, he will claim that it was the only empty seat left but people like him will always find excuses. After that, he saw her in the hall once and, get this, he smiled...and not only smiled, but smiled AND nodded in her direction.

    The last encounter was possibly the most disturbing - when he was handing back an assignment I saw that their fingers touched! Yes, touched!! This was the final straw and I filed a suit against him on my friend's behalf...good thing too, who knew what else he would have done if this appalling behaviour was allowed to continue. Tell her he enjoyed having her in the class? A high-five? A hug?? One shudders to think of the possibilities.


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