“Status” Doesn’t Absolve You From Giving Respect

Written on September 25th, 2017

I’m going to channel my inner Aretha Franklin and talk about respect for a hot second. Many people have different views about whether or not someone freely deserves respect or if they have to earn it, but I’m of the belief that every individual I meet — regardless of their status — deserves my tact.

If you are my work supervisor, I’m going to respect you. If you are my colleague, I’m going to respect you. And if you are my subordinate, then I’m going to respect you too. Plain and simple.

What does this respect mean? To me, it means I will be polite, honest, and upfront. I will not waste your time nor make you feel shameful for a genuine mistake. I will be present with you in our interactions. I will work hard and treat you with kindness, because I don’t care about your “status” — I care about the fact that you are another worthy human being.

In general, I think most people have a level of respect for their superiors and for their equals; it’s common practice to “respect your elders”, and we often want to experience camaraderie with our direct peers.

But lately I’ve run into an issue with some individuals not merely being disrespectful but actually downright rude to those they believe to be “lower” than them.

Here’s the thing: I can learn from every single person with whom I have an interaction. Every last one. And so can you, and so can the smartest people in our whole world. There isn’t a single soul out there who doesn’t have something to teach me… so I’m going to offer respect to everyone, even the people to whom I feel superior.

Unfortunately, not everyone seems to think this way.

I have one professor in particular (who will remain nameless, out of respect 😉 ) that has been making me cringe since our first interaction.

Let me start by saying that this individual is hardworking, dedicated, and very, very smart. I believe they have so much to offer and I’m thrilled that I get to learn from them — but I’m not thrilled with the way they treat me and their other students.

The saga of rudeness started last semester during course enrollment. A few particular classes I needed to complete a certificate required instructor consent. I followed the procedure to obtain consent perfectly and even a few weeks before the deadline. I received an email from this professor saying that they would forward the necessary materials to the enrollment office so that I could get the courses I needed. Awesome, right?

Well, course enrollment rolled around, and the proper permissions still weren’t showing up in my online center just two days before my enrollment time. When I first noticed this a few weeks prior I thought that it might just take the permissions a while to be processed (or that they didn’t input them until closer to enrollment), and I avoided bothering anyone. But as my date drew nearer I politely reached out to the professor saying I thought there might be an issue and wanted to know if they thought the permissions would be updated by the time of my enrollment.

I received an email back saying “I don’t have magical powers to control the enrollment system” and nothing else.

I still recall the gross feeling in the pit of my stomach when I got that message. I frantically re-read my own email, making sure that I hadn’t said anything that could be construed as rude that would have deserved such a short, cold response. I hadn’t.

I reached out to the enrollment office directly then, only to be told that they had no record of the instructor granting me consent. I quickly realized what had happened — the professor, surely overwhelmed with countless requests, had simply forgotten to forward my materials.

No big deal. I still had 24 hours before my enrollment time. I politely reached out to the instructor again, saying that it seemed they had forgotten to forward my materials and asking if they might be able to do so now.

I received no response. I considered that this individual might simply be busy… until one of my friends received a response for an email she sent after I did.

I went back to the enrollment office and presented my dilemma. Thankfully, after some deliberation, they were willing to accept the email the instructor had originally sent to me granting permission as evidence and allowed me to enroll in the classes I needed.

It luckily worked out. But I never did hear from that professor again… until the first day of courses this semester when I went to their class.

After some heavy mindset refocusing, I was ready to go in and use this semester to build a great relationship. I saw our class meetings as an opportunity to grow with this professor and leave that course enrollment stress behind: perhaps they had misinterpreted the tone of my email, perhaps they were busy, perhaps perhaps perhaps. Regardless, I was ready to move on and grant the benefit of the doubt.

But I realized quickly that this professor’s behavior with me was not an unusual occurrence. They have yet to respond to a single one of my emails asking about course content or assignment clarifications. They regularly insult students in class, going beyond constructive critiques and entering the realm of actual degradation.

They are unclear in their assignments and expectations. Written dates are consistently incorrect, and project criteria are frequently rearranged on short notice. This professor is frankly a mess — and yet they expect us as students to be perfect.

It is hard for me to go into class every day with a smile and good attitude when I feel as though my time and effort are being disrespected. I get that I am a student — a mere undergraduate compared to this PhD-holding wonder… but that doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve respect too.

My time is valuable, and I am paying a significant amount to be taking their class. There is no reason that us students should be ignored and belittled simply because we are young and less educated — the point of a professor is to bring us into more knowledge, not make us feel shameful for our lack of it.

I am blessed to have experienced so many wonderful instructors in my life, and I am thankful for the ceaseless kindness they have shown me and their other students. It’s unfortunate that there are individuals who believe that simply because they have a title or some sort of power over others it means they get to treat them unfairly.

I have faith that this semester can go well — I’ve been working my butt off to produce quality work and prove myself to my professor. But the truth is that I shouldn’t have to slave just to achieve a standard level of respect; tact and politeness should be granted to me on principle, the same way I will grant them to everyone else.

What I am taking away from this experience is a reminder to always check myself. I never want to make anyone in my life feel the way this professor has made me. I know I won’t be perfect (everyone has their moments, after all), but I hope that if I am one day feeling tempted to be rude to someone “below” me, I remember what it feels like — and I choose to take the higher road.