Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Southern politieness is sometimes messed up

Hello, blog-o-sphere! I apologize for my long absence. I have plenty to report about, including several events from over a month ago, but I will continue to save those for a later date. It's time to start writing in this thing again, even if there are no photos of strange Arkansas happenings.

So, I noticed a strange phenomenon in my undergraduate statistics class last semester. Many of the students, whether over email or in person, addressed me as "Ms. Amazing" (where "Amazing" stands for my actual last name). I thought this was kind of strange, as most of the students in Chicago called me "Dr. Amazing" or "Professor Amazing" and that was before I got my doctorate. But, I didn't really think much of it until this interaction occurred over email:

Student: "Mrs. Amazing, [insert random stats question here]"
Me: "First, I'm not a Mrs!; Either Dr. or Prof. is perfectly fine. [insert answer to stats question here]."
Student: "Oh right, oops, you told the class that you're engaged! Ok, so Ms. Amazing, [insert follow-up question.]

At this, I was like....huh? I mean, I'm happy to have my doctorate, as it took me a long-ass time to accomplish the goal, and I don't really require everyone to address me as a doctor. There may even be a time where I will tell all the students to simply call me "Jenn." That said, as a first year faculty member, I'd like to keep things more formal. It's also the case that I have a doctoral degree and am teaching at the university level, so really, etiquette dictates that students should probably address me "Dr. Amazing" or even "Prof. Amazing." Why oh why, after I corrected a student, did she still use "Ms." rather than a professional title?

I did some verbal research on this, and what I found was interesting. Apparently it's a Southern thing, and it only happens to women. The male profs are called "Professor" or "Doctor" but the women aren't. This isn't intentional rudeness on the part of these students, and it's not like they all do it, but the ones from this area seem far more likely to fall into this "politeness" trap, which is more maddening than it is polite.

When figuring out how to respond to this student, I just couldn't let it go. I basically told her that I wasn't offended by her addressing me as Ms., but that someone else might after spending *cough* number of years obtaining a doctoral degree. Every communication after that she addressed to Dr. Amazing.

Today I had my first office hours of the semester and my first student of the semester, who walked in and immediately said "Hello, Ms. Amazing?" It barely caught my notice at the time, because (a) who the hell shows up to office hours during the first week and (b) I was playing with the little lego people I'm using in class this semester. But after she left I started thinking about it some more, and now I feel I must address this for the entire class, and also figure out how to nicely and politely correct a student who does this. I feel like kind of a pretentious twit saying "You must call me DOCTOR AMAZING!" and I don't want to do that, but I also find the gender inequity unfair and believe that the students are doing this out of automatic ignorance, not out of malicious intent. As an educator, it's my job to educate them....right?

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