I teach at an “island university” in South Texas. The climate is warm, hot usually, and humid. It’s not uncommon to see students wearing shorts and flip-flops year round. Men wear tank tops and and women wear halter tops, and no one bats an eye. The dress style here is casual, and this type of casual attire might not be appropriate at other institutions across the country, those with a cooler climate or with a more conservative culture. Even though students here dress comfortably for the weather, even their “show of skin” can go too far. That’s the question in today’s post: What’s “too much skin” in a classroom setting when does too much skin become a problem?
This post continues the ProfHacker series on disruptive student behavior in the classroom. To date, we have had posts about students who engage in disruptive, off-topic behavior with each other, answer every single question anyone in the class asks, have a pungent aroma of illegal drugs or alcohol about them.
In this series, we present a scenario and offer a few suggestions from ProfHacker readers about how they handle similar situations. Today’s post breaks with this pattern. We will present the scenario and we’ll ask YOU what you’d do in the situation. Of course, the way you, dear reader, will handle these scenarios will depend upon your discipline, class size, your gender, students’ genders, and the culture of your institution. Lastly, the following scenarios are real. The institutions/professors are not named for soon-to-be obvious reasons.
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SCENARIO [male version]: Class is in session. Being the constructivist professor you are, you walk around the room as you lecture or guide your students in their tasks for that day. You notice a small group of students huddled over a computer trying to stifle their laughter. You approach the group to see what they are viewing on the screen, and it’s then you realize they are not laughing at something on the computer; they are using the screen as a shield to hide their laughter. You look up to see what they are laughing at, and it’s then you see the heavy-set young man at the front of the classroom leaning across a desk talking to another student. He has leaned so far forward that his pants (sans belt) have slipped …. they haven’t just slipped below his shorts (if he had been wearing shorts), but his low-rider jeans have slipped so far down his body he’s sharing his backside all with the rest of the class. The laughter escalates as other students catch on. He doesn’t seem to recognize that the students are laughing at him. You feel you have lost control of the situation.
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SCENARIO [female version]: Class is in session. You are standing at the front of the classroom lecturing. The door opens and a young woman enters. It’s hard not to notice her entrance: she’s wearing white thigh-high boots, a white miniskirt that could rival the length of her underwear, and a sheer white tube top (and she could get away with wearing these clothes in a different setting). You don’t want to stare at her, and nor do the other 35 male and female students in the room. But it’s hard to look away. You shake off the distraction and get on with your lecture. The other students, however, cannot (or choose not) to shake off the distraction of the woman in white. She seems oblivious to the commotion she’s caused. You feel you’ve lost control of the situation.
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Billie’s Response: As I was thinking about this post several weeks ago, I polled my students (50 students: 44 women and 6 men). I asked them (very informally), “If you were showing a disruptive amount of skin [enough that the class session came to a halt because people would be staring/laughing] would you want your professor to do / say something about it?”
Interestingly, the vast majority of the students said, “yes” they would want the professor to say something, but that “yes,” depended on the professor’s age and gender in relation to the student’s age and gender. Students felt that if a professor of the same gender as the student said something to the student (and said this privately), the male and female students would welcome the news, as they probably didn’t realize they were being disruptive or were embarrassing themselves. On the other hand, a female student, for example, would be embarrassed if a male professor addressed her clothing or her skin, especially if it was from a younger professor or one, according to students, who had the “creep” factor.
RESPONSE: Now it’s your turn. As the professor in the classes noted in scenarios #1 and #2, what would you do with students displaying “too much skin”? If you’ve had a related situation, how did you handle it? Please leave your comments in suggestions below.
[Image by Flickr user jessicafm, and used under the Creative Commons license. Note on the image: butts are really cute on babies.]