Monday, May 23, 2011

in loco parentis

I teach film and gender studies at a University. Usually, I think about my relationship with my students and not about their relationships with their family. But every year, on graduation weekend, I come into contact with student's families and I realize that my relationship with the student has become part of that student's relationship with his/her family. Usually, this means that the parents have heard of me, or heard about a class I taught. This year, for example, I talked to a lot of parents about my Sinatra class. I also had a lot of general conversations with parents about what the student's major meant to them. In the case of gender studies, there were some parents who spoke very approvingly of their child's choice to major in gender studies. They saw that it had been very beneficial to their child. Some were not as convinced, perhaps, or were glad that the student had a "practical" major as well. The most amazing conversation I had, though, was with a dad whose daughter majored in film and took many film/gender classes from me, as well as one on feminist and gender theory without a film component. The father took me aside and told me that he and his wife had been worried by the fact that their daughter was somewhat narrow minded and conservative about gender. Living in LA, the dad said, they felt she should be more open. So they were delighted when she took my courses. He said it really made her think and change her views -- on abortion (which I don't think I ever explicitly addressed, but would have come up in a few films), gender roles, feminism, homosexuality, transgender, and more. He said that I was not only his daughters' favorite professor but the family's. It was an amazing conversation. I was very surprised and pleased -- nobody has ever ever thanked me for making their daughter less conservative! But it was also amazing to remember the impact that we can have. When sometimes it seems all students care about is grades and the market payoff for college, along comes someone who seeks just to expand her mind. And parents who appreciate that and seek it with her and for her. It made me appreciate my role as mentor in a whole new way. And it gave me a model for how to think about my own kids and what they can find at school.

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