Just in case you don’t get the reference.
I know this happened the week before last. I wanted to write about it last weekend but I ran out of time.
The story goes that University of Guelph professor Edward Hedican was filling in for another prof, and got irritated with a student. Obviously I didn’t see it, but several students on Facebook said that he told the student he was annoying, questioned if he was even enrolled in the class, and referred to an assistant who was with him as his handler, telling the assistant to control him. That’s pretty unprofessional behaviour for a professor at the best of times, but it gets really bad when the student has severe anxiety, hence the reason for the presence of an assistant.
I can’t even say the professor was unaware of the anxiety issues, since apparently, during one of the times the professor asked him what he was doing, the student said he had severe anxiety, and the prof just kept on ridiculing him like he was dealing with a heckler at a comedy club. And after all of this, and despite his union discouraging him from making comments to the press, he said the following:
“There was no physical contact here, there’s no sexual interaction, there’s a verbal altercation that happened in class. And I’ll just leave it at that,” he said.
Hmmm, I think I wouldn’t have even gone that far. Nobody else mentioned any physical or sexual misconduct. He also said there were two sides to every story, and then proceeded to not give his. If you can’t comment, don’t even start.
And allow me to get down to the big reason I wanted to write about this incident. Mr. Heddican obviously has no idea how devastating mere words can be when they are used to humiliate in front of hundreds of people simply because the person holding the power feels like doing it. It’s especially difficult when the thing being used for ridicule is a disability with which someone is trying to deal. Maybe the student had just been recently diagnosed with it and was still trying to figure out coping strategies.
What if I had been in Mr. Heddican’s class and something about my assistive technology had annoyed him. Maybe my notetaking device had beeped unexpectedly. Maybe the sound of me typing would have been a distraction to him. Maybe he didn’t like my dog. Would he decide I should be centred out for his amusement? Would it have required physical or sexual impropriety for it to have been misconduct?
I had something happen to me years ago that wasn’t even close to what Mr. Heddican did, and apparently, by the way my hands are shaking as I write, it still bothers me. I was in a class where the professor loved to put up graphs and charts and pictures, and then just say “You can see from the graph how the crime rates have fallen,” or whatever. He didn’t take the few extra seconds to say “The graph illustrates that there was a steep drop in crime rate after a neighbourhood watch was put in place…” for example. I approached the prof in private and asked him if he could either make the slides available to me, or just verbally describe things a bit so I could be in on the lesson. He said he would try. But the next class, as he put another graph up on the projector, he actually said something to the effect of “I’m sorry, Carin, but a picture is worth a thousand words…” and put the graph up without even trying to describe it. He centred me out in front of a giant class full of students, by name, mentioned my blindness, and then decided to say I wasn’t worth the time to make the lesson inclusive. I wasn’t worth it. I think I turned 40 shades of red. I wish I could say I called in people from the Centre for Students with Disabilities and we had a big meeting about this, but I didn’t. I was in my first year. I shrank back in my chair and wanted to disappear. That was nothing compared to this tirade.
It’s especially difficult for someone with an invisible disability when someone decides to pick on them because of it. A lot of people don’t believe invisible disabilities are a thing. People think of disabilities as blind, deaf, using crutches or a wheelchair. If they can’t see it, it can’t be that bad. So disclosing this sort of thing is something the person does with people with whom they are comfortable, and Mr. Heddican made him do it in front of a giant class. That could have been forgiven since it was given as the answer to a question, but Heddican kept going!
I can understand why Mr. Heddican might be wondering what the hell’s up with the gum, but I’m sure he could have handled it much more tactfully. He’s supposed to be the mature one, after all. Even if he asked what was up with the gum, as soon as the kid said he had anxiety, he could have tried to go on as normal and then talked to him afterwards.
Finally, I’m not one to pick on a specific word used to describe someone or something, but that whole “handler” bit just illustrates Heddican’s attitudes towards anyone who might need extra assistance. It, and that no comment comment he left speaks volumes about his character, in my opinion.
I’m glad he was only substituting, and is now on leave. I can’t imagine the dread that student would have been feeling if he knew he had to walk into another class taught by him.