I felt like a normal college student, who was actually really passionate about her major. I thought as a student, I was supposed to raise my hand and speak my mind in class. That is, until my professor began paying me more attention than the others.
It was the end of my sophomore year of college. I was young and enthusiastic, a straight A student that was highly engaged in all of my classes. Studying Psychology, I was taking a lecture in Human Development in the evenings. The class had seventy-five people in it, and was held in a wide room, five rows deep. Every week, I sat in the back row of the room, but every week I made sure to ask questions and have insightful discussions with my professor and peers.
A few weeks into the semester, my professor had a new habit: each week, he would begin lecture by entering the room, looking for me in the last row, waving to me and saying, “Hi Amanda!” and then “Hello students!”
After this happened for a few weeks in a row, I heard the sorority girls sitting next to me begin to whisper about the awkward greetings. They assumed I was sleeping with the professor. They giggled and gagged over how disgusting that would be, especially since our professor was an awkward, middle-aged, bald man. Quite obviously, I was immediately embarrassed. How could I tell them that I am, in fact, not sleeping with our professor, without making the situation more than it was?
As soon as the professor began to notice me, I desperately wanted him to stop noticing me. I wanted to be able to engage in my classes without calling attention to myself. Why did my being passionate about my major make my professor lead others to believe I was sleeping with him?
At first it was only the students spreading rumors that had me feeling weird. But it wasn’t long before my professor started to think that way too.
Towards the end of the semester, I got very sick and had to miss class for over a month. I emailed the professor to let him know that I was bed ridden and would makeup all the work as quickly as I could. Much to my surprise, he was less concerned about my grades than he was about caring for me. He basically ignored my worry about my coursework, and responded that he missed seeing me in class. He wanted to go on a “coffee date.”
Naive as I was, I still thought it was an innocent concern. That being said, I reminded him that I was bed ridden and would not be able to meet for coffee. He then responded that he was desperate to see me. Apparently he makes a delicious chicken soup and wanted to hand deliver some to me in my apartment. He asked for my address. I politely declined the offer, but let him know that I was thankful for the gesture. He again urged me to meet with him, and he really missed me. At this point, I began to question his intentions and therefore ignored the last email.
After a few days, he forwarded the email to my other email address, saying he was anxiously waiting for a response. I once again ignored the email. I didn’t know what to do. My own professor was beginning to harass me into going on a date with him.
A week went by, and it came time for me to schedule when I would makeup my final exam. The class had already taken it, and once I was able to stand, I would go to take the exam myself in the professor’s office. I made my boyfriend accompany me to the professor’s office, mostly because I was unable to walk on my own, but also because I anticipated needing help avoiding an awkward encounter with the professor.
Once we arrived, the professor made my boyfriend wait outside and closed his office door behind me as I entered. Before he let me take my final exam, he wanted to know why I didn’t respond to his request for a date. And before I could come up with a reason, he wanted to tell me exactly why he wanted to date me.
“I feel like you just GET me. I can talk to you like I can talk to no one else.” I politely thanked him, but asked for my exam. He ignored my request for the exam and continued, “My wife divorced me, and my son won’t talk to me, and I feel like you can be the person to be there for me and help me feel better.” My first thought at this point was to remind him that he was old enough to be my father, and to alter his perspective for him to view me as a child, not a potential date. I told him that my father and I were close and that my parents also thought I was easy to talk to. Unfortunately my attempts didn’t work. He proceeded, “You are smart beyond your years, and you just understand. You just get me.”
I continued to nod, smile, and then ask if I could begin my exam. But he continued to press on with the compliments and inquiries about why I was avoiding a date with him. Finally I said, in a more firm tone, that I really did not feel well, and really needed to get on with taking the exam. Perhaps noticing the agitation in my voice, he handed me a copy of the test, and a pen.
As I began to fill in my name and date, I noticed he was sitting there staring at me. This test was over two hours, and I did not feel comfortable with him staring at me for two hours. At this point I was frustrated and losing my patience. So I put the pencil down, looked up at him, and questioned if he was going to sit and watch me for over two hours, or if I could take the test alone, in peace. He awkward said, “Oh, okay, fine,” and left me alone in his office.
I ran from the building as soon as I finished the test, leaving the papers on his desk and just hoping he would find them. I knew he couldn’t penalize me for denying him a date, since I had earned straight A’s for the entire semester. But I was still too worried to report him thinking that he would confront me again or somehow sabotage my career.
I moved a few days after that awkward talk alone in the professor’s office, and aside from telling some friends about the weird man, I never notified the school. In hindsight, I should have told the administration that this professor was abusing his power to seek companionship with his students, and doing so in a very persistent and uncomfortable manner.