Early on in my TA career at UIUC, I had a student write a racist paper on Othello. His thesis was that any "black man who marries a white woman gets what he deserves." I wanted to fail this student outright, and I talked to other TAs about it. They all convinced me that I couldn't do this at UIUC , which I am very grateful for because if I had, I would have entered a nightmare world of bureaucracy because he did end up contesting his “C” grade. Yet I was still able to provide "a teaching moment" on a variety of levels when he did meet to contest his “C” grade. In this meeting, I was able to show him that not only did he NOT provide evidence for this claim in his paper, but also that such evidence does not really exist in the play.
Your experience at UIUC extends for me a lecture Professor Pryor lead about dealing with controversial topics. She emphasized reverting to the assignment prompt so that no opinions are opposed, rather one opinion is held against a set standard (the prompt) established by a third party (the professor). The story you told seems to illustrate "What's next?" if the controversial thesis answers the assignment prompt. I agree and would also analyze the text for any evidence of the writer's argument.I guess the next question in "What's next?" is if the thesis answers the question but the tutor has no knowledge of the text to inspect the veracity/legitimacy of the thesis?
Silver, I can only imagine the expression on your face as you read that thesis. Do you think the student did this with any particular motive in mind, or do you think he wrote this because he truly believed it?I would have to agree that there is a concrete line of what is acceptable conduct in an academic paper and what belongs, say, in someone's personal blog. As far as academic papers are concerned, I fear I would have had the same reaction. I am curious, how long did the process of scaling back your emotions last?Of course, there was no profanity in his thesis, and we all are guaranteed the right to free speech. I'm glad to see you stepped back and graded him on the content of the paper vice going with your initial reactions.Have you had any other similar instances occur in your careers of TA'ing and tutoring?~ N.
That would be a difficult situation to deal with. Having someone write a paper that is blatantly racist and then come to you for help as a tutor would be a nightmare. I think I would want to fail them as well, but at least you were able to refrain from any angry outbursts. Remaining objective would be really difficult in such a situation. I think the only thing you could in this case would be to play the "devil's advocate" and try to get him to realize how weak his argument actually is.
wow! Sounds like you did a good job CYA with his paper.
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