When you picture the stereotypical college professor (fictional character, not necessarily real), chances are you don’t imagine a trendy young woman or a soccer dad. You might call to mind an older man, dressed in a tweed blazer—brown leather, rugby elbow-patched, a bit grubby. Maybe he’s bearded and gruff, or perhaps he has rosy cheeks. Either way, everything about his demeanor renders him erudite, a grounded academic, maybe with a flair for the dramatic.
I fully expected to have this professor in college. I imagined that he would become my mentor, speaking solely of a period he would call “Back in my day…” and waxing poetic about how the world is for the learned. He would be vested in eugenics, cursing the day when millennials would prove themselves more ingenious than he and his xenophobic generation would be prepared to handle.
I have not met that professor at Etown.
Instead, I recognized as soon as I matriculated that I actually had much in common with my professors in terms of my political and social opinions and ambitions.
No, I do not mean that I am more conservative than I had initially realized, matching closely the banal Baby Boomer with a Ph.D. Quite the opposite: My professors are generally quite liberal, much more progressive and open to new ideas than I had expected them to be.
It’s the students that I defer to here, zipping my liberal lips as tightly as I can to ensure that I don’t offend them (too much). I have found my peers to be much more conservative politically, religiously and socially than many of my professors.
Granted, I am part of the English department and the majority of my classes fall into the humanities classification, so that might impact how liberal my professors are. But I think it’s funny how few students on campus share their opinions in comparison to the number of teachers who feel comfortable doing so.
Maybe this is because my teachers have gone out into the “real world,” and seen life outside of the conservative center of Pennsylvania, where most of our students have grown up. Or maybe it is because the media generally skews liberal, and many of my professors have personally interacted with that industry prior to teaching here.
Either way, it’s curious. I am more afraid to curse in front of my classmates than I am my elders. I don’t want to talk about my preference for Hillary over Trump and avoid talking about my views on abortion and gay rights because those conversations seem taboo here, with the exception of a few more outspoken students (who have my utmost respect despite their affiliations, by the way).
I worry about openly and loudly expressing my viewpoints because I have observed that they are rarely understood by the students at Etown in the way that I anticipate them to be, and I’m not a fan of being judged for thinking like a Democrat more so than a Republican.
The professors I have make me feel comfortable, and for that, I thank them. They make me feel included, while generally, the student body does not.
I am not afraid to bite my tongue, doing so with caution as circumstance dictates.
We have something to learn from everyone, yes… but I’ve realized that I may be able to learn more socially (as well as academically, obviously) from my professors than from my peers.