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An Open Letter to My Toxic Professor

Image from WSJ.

Professor,

You may remember me as the quiet student in your class. The one you sent demeaning, insulting emails to in response to my work. The one you did absolutely nothing to help succeed in your White-male-dominated class. You may have thought me distracted, aloof: someone who didn’t care enough or work hard enough to get an A in your class. But let me tell you the real story. I was very excited to take your class. As an aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker, I’d heard success stories of students who made it in the industry and thought, “That could be me.” But the truth is, it couldn’t. All the students you’ve doted on have been White, and most have been male.

I have a hard time speaking out in class. Growing up in Mexico, I was taught that you show your teachers respect by shutting up and paying attention. Even after coming to the United States, it’s hard to break down internalized submissiveness in academic settings, especially considering that academia is White-dominated. For you, for your White students, for your male students, speaking up may come naturally. But for me, a non-White immigrant woman who has been taught and encouraged to be silent, it simply doesn’t. There are other ways I showed engagement, like diligently taking notes, attending every class, actively listening in on discussions, putting all my effort into every assignment, but that was not enough for you. You still saw it fit to respond negatively to any mistakes I made in my assignments. Going so far as to send me the single most insulting, hurtful, unprofessional email I have ever received.

I want you to know that said email was deeply discouraging and made me want to drop your class. I even considered reporting you. I didn’t. I didn’t because I was afraid of the consequences, of your anger, of your response. I went out of my way to protect your White fragility, and for that, I’m ashamed. A teacher should teach, should encourage students to keep trying. You may call it tough love, but I call it bullshit. It’s no coincidence that I’m an immigrant woman and a student you gave up on. It’s no coincidence that your favorite students were White men. When I signed up for your class, I knew you’d be tough, but I thought your methods would still be productive. I was wrong.

The films you screened in class were classic old-Hollywood films with all-White casts and outdated plotlines. Not once did I see myself represented in those films. Not once did I feel inspired to contribute something of substance. You continue to see film as a White-dominated medium with no regard for meaningful stories about oppression, marginalization, and revolution. Class discussions followed the artificial “plight” of White characters, focusing on one side of screenwriting—an idealized, technical checklist of plot points to hit. Nothing more.

What about experimental films? What about films by BIPOC and marginalized communities? The thing I love most about film is its passion, its ability to make an impact, to induce empathy, and tell meaningful, moving stories. I understand that Singing in the Rain and Meet Me in St. Louis are Hollywood classics and great movies to analyze. But there are countless of influential movies that have had a significant impact on society and culture, and  offer a representation of non-White players. Countless films you could have added to your curriculum. Once, I would have liked to see a complex character of color in one of the films you screened. Once, I would have liked you to discuss the racism and lack of accurate representation in Hollywood, as well as the dangers of misrepresentation.

I’m here to tell you that despite your cruelty, I haven’t given up on screenwriting or filmmaking. I maintain that film is a beautiful, influential, crucial medium through which ideologies, positive and negative, are constructed and perpetuated. I think it’s about time the film industry diversified. It’s time for more successful non-White, immigrant, and female filmmakers. And I’ll do everything in my power to make one of them me. I hope to inspire other filmmakers from marginalized communities to lend their voices and tell their stories. I hope to do for them what you failed to do for me.

Take responsibility. Assess your privilege. Being older is no excuse. You’re still a professor, a figure of authority and pedagogy, and it’s your responsibility to adapt to the times and make academia a more inclusive place. Do better. Be better.

Sincerely,

A student you failed

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Written by Danny

Student at Georgetown University. Lover of Film and TV. Self-taught clown.

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