Finding Your Voice When You Need It Most

Apparently bullies are not limited to elementary school playgrounds, but in college as well. I encountered a college bully today, in my Methods Lab, who happens to be the T.A as well. This T.A consistently says condescending remarks that belittle individuals and unfortunately hinders a good-learning environment. I found out today, thanks to Google, that a bully is a person that uses their strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. Well mister T.A guy-you try to harm and you do try to intimidate and while others may accept that learning environment, I refuse. I refuse to be belittled and I will not be intimidated. Please, I worked my ass off way too hard in speech therapy, special ed, remedial math, tutoring, school in general, be intimidated by a man who thinks his potential Master's degree makes him too good to be a decent human being. I also refuse to believe that I or anyone in this class is stupid and "slow." I don't want the "woe is me" story, I am fuming beyond belief, but if you happened to be bullied even outside of childhood. You are not alone- and if you haven't yet, I say yet because it happens to everyone at some point, just remember that the single incident has nothing to do with your entire life's work and efforts <- Michelle G. thank you! Mom-don't freak out, I've been bullied enough to know to vocalize about it and your girl has got it under control! Best of all my whole 'Underdog complex' has now developed in this scenario to "I'm way too good for this."
(Thank you Facebook Memories for bringing this up, again)

This was the first and only time (so far) in my adult life that a fellow adult had bullied me. A senior in college, I survived eight years in the academia world without bullies. Until him.

This T.A led lab sessions for my Political Science Methods class (it was a mixture of stats, math, and computer programming).

Every session, I would record and video tape him (with his permission). More often than not, he would say or do some questionable act in class. I would complain to the professor and administration. It was always blown under the rug.

This T.A continuously made rude or degrading comments, thus creating a negative atmosphere. Several times he called students and their questions, stupid or dumb.

Frankly, when someone thinks they are smarter than everyone else-they have to spend all their energy trying to prove it. He exemplified this perfectly. 

This day, the T.A returned our graded assignments. I worked a month on this assignment- I was terrible at this class, but I finally had completed an assignment correctly. I had worked with a Tutor, the professor himself, my classmates, even this T.A; I did the best I could do.

Unfortunately, my paper was covered in more red than black-and-white.

A 2/10 written at the upper right hand corner of my assignment.

Yes, a 20% on this month long assignment I spent hours, days, and nights on. 

I held my own and objectively evaluated this assignment I failed. I quickly noticed that we were marked for not providing answers that the questions did not ask for.

Now I may not be great at computer programming, stats, or anything math related, but how are you  to provide this said answer to an unwritten question?

It should just be assumed?

I don't think so-it's a math/computer programming class; nothing is ever 'assumed.'

The T.A declared his disappointment at how poorly we did despite his great teaching, then proceeded to ask if we had any questions.

Being a few weeks into the semester, we knew this T.A was terrible. When he suggested if we had any questions, it was best to shut up before he personally insults you. 

We knew the routine, I knew the routine.

But I couldn't help myself, I abhorred this routine.

I couldn't take it any longer. My heart was pounding in the silent classroom. I raised my hand and began to ask questions.

My mom always suggested that the best way to prove your point, or irritate insecure people, is to ask questions. Usually they'll get tongue-tied and inconsistent; you will find their weakness if they can't answer your questions well.

That's exactly what I did. 

I asked why we were marked down for not providing answers that the question didn't call out for.

He beat around the bush.

I suggested specific question numbers then, "What about Question #5? There's points deducted for not providing this ____, but the question only asked what the correct equation was..."

Other classmates began to join in and ask similar questions as I had. We soon noticed and addressed the T.A's inconsistent responses and justifications.

We all respectfully asked specific questions,  not yelling or raising our voices. No one fully understood why we were marked down and clearly there was a discrepancy between the answers wanted, the ones we gave, and what the questions meant.

Regardless of how we asked our questions, you could sense the T.A's frustration escalating. The more questions we asked, the shorter his responses were. His face was turning a new shade of red.

I asked yet another question.

With an irritated tone, he snapped, "If you have a problem, then go tell the professor."

You could feel the venom in his tone. He was irritated. He wanted us to be silent.

I wanted answers, an explanation at least, something constructive to explain his grading processes. We all did.

I tried to keep my tone respectful, casual, and -I'll admit- snarky. This is more irritating than yelling back, plus I did not need to appear as an 'emotional, erratic girl.'

I casually replied, "Well you asked if we had any questions, I just thought you'd be able to answer them."

You could sense the tension in this room between frustrated students - minus the sole freshman in the class ignoring all of this - and the T.A. wanting to regain our subordination

This was the breaking point.

The T.A. said again, sarcastically, "Well I can't answer it - go talk to the professor if you have any questions. Good luck with that."

'Good luck with that...' Seriously?

In order to regain control, he asked me to apologize for disrupting class.

I scoffed and replied, "No thanks."

Another student quickly raised his hand and asked a legitimate question. The T.A. responded, "No, that's wrong. I told you don't do that."

Seriously constructive, right?

I raised my hand, I found another question I had from this assignment.

He sighed loudly.

When I asked my question, he remarked that, "The coding was wrong."

I asked again, "Then what's the correct coding on this?"

He replied, "I taught that in class a week ago."

I responded, "Then refresh my memory, clearly I didn't comprehend it."

We went back and forth, our anger fueled by our desire to have the last word. He wanted to preserve the sanctity of his classroom authority built upon degrading others, and I sought to challenge it.

Let's note, I did not seek to challenge this for the sake of doing so. However, there was a clear abuse of his position and lack of respect; it was intolerable.

Through the fiery exchange of back-and-forth remarks, he finally crossed a line.

He looked at me and said, "Don't be stupid or retarded just because you're wrong."

I got it on tape. Like all our exchanges in the past, but this time he said the 'r-word.' That is frowned upon, especially in higher-learning establishments.

I asked him, "Excuse me, what did you just say?"

Just to make sure I have this correct.

He said again, frustrated, "Don't make me repeat myself. Don't be retarded...You should apologize..."

Ah there it was, he officially said I was being retarded. I had his permission to audio record all of his lectures. This is gold. 

I accusatorily claimed, "Excuse me, myself and others may have disabilities and you just said I was retarded..."

He peddled back, never really apologizing for the comment, and insisted that, "Look, this class is getting off track. You should be apologizing for disrupting class like this."

Excuse me?

I muttered, "You know you're right."

He smiled for a second, content that he got the trouble-maker to be quiet.

Being a trouble-maker in class was never a role I had taken before, but this wasn't trouble.

I said aloud, "I'm Sorry..."

He mocked me and said, "She's sowwie... Well thank you and now-"

I fake-smiled, knowing exactly what was going to come out of my mouth would not match my grin. I could have potentially let this go, but mocking how I said 'sorry.' That was unacceptable. I was going to explode. Best of all, he would never see it coming.

Is it worth it to say this? Oh yes it is!

It escaped my mouth and I never knew anger could be so eloquent.

Somewhere in the beginning of his lecture, my adrenaline gave me tunnel vision and I interrupted him.

I calmly said again,"Yeah, I'm sorry..."

This is more important to me than any grade would have.

He turned his head, more confused as to why I said this when he already moved on.

He was about to respond, but I inhaled deeply and blurted,"Sorry you're such a d*** and unless you can explain how your mother could like you; my time here is useless."

I quickly grabbed my materials.

You should have seen his face; beet red, fuming with anger.

I had enough make-up on to hide my face's redness and I withheld my tears in that classroom.

I was proud, thrilled, adrenaline-pumped, but upset, scared and frustrated all at the same time.

He yelled, the loudest I've heard him yell, "GET OUT OF MY CLASS!"

I smiled and retorted, "I'm leaving anyways." I was already headed out the door.

Some kids applauded and left the classroom as well. Granted their intentions may have been for different reasons.

The freshman was staring at the wall pretending none of this happened. He stayed in class with one other guy. Seriously, I caused a classroom walk-out with 6 students leaving out of 8.

I held my own in that room, but being called a retard and my speech mocked as a College Senior from a power-tripping graduate T.A student, that hit me hard.

The second I was outside of the building, I bawled my eyes out.

All the emotions just hit me at once.

Ever sit on a bench in public, broad daylight and just cry?

People stared, I didn't care.

In this single moment in college, I had questioned everything-my abilities, my work, my worth. Did I really belong at this school, in this class, in this major? Outwardly I had no issues questioning this authority, but inwardly I was questioning everything about myself.

I called my mom right after; who else do you call when you've started a classroom revolt and jeopardized your last semester grade of Senior year?

I explained in between tears what had happened and how I'll probably fail this class, but it was worth it.

She consoled me of course. Comforting me with the fact that I did my best and stood up for myself; that my character is more valuable than my grade, plus there's always summer school.

My Godmother also suggested I slash the T.A's tires (I'm still thinking about it today).

I went back to my apartment and, like any responsible twenty-one year old, I drank a bottle of wine while crying and cursing with my roommate and friends.

With only a few months remaining in the school year, I filed a complaint with the professor, the administration, and ranted about the T.A to anyone who would listen.

I was still stuck with him as a T.A on the roster, but I never went to his class. The professor of course understood and respected this decision, he along with others were beyond accommodating. I told him I couldn't learn in this kind of environment- who possibly could?

I attended the other T.A's sessions, the ones that were nicer and helpful, and I learned what I needed to by my colleagues, Wikipedia, and YouTube videos. We were only required to attend one T.A session a week, but I was going on average five times a week in order to grasp this material.

As long as the work was completed, it didn't matter if I physically showed up or not. I requested that the professor grade all my assignments, which he did, or another TA would.

I graduated that semester. Due to fear of this T.A somehow failing me, I left the graduation ceremony as soon as I walked across the stage to pick up my Diploma. I was first in line and I had my Diploma, even though our final grades were not released.

Luckily, I later discovered that I passed that class and there was no need to run away with my college Diploma.

As far as this grad student T.A, I am not sure if he continued teaching afterwards. I highly doubt it with all the complaints.  I only hope karma gives him a piece of her mind, because I surely did.