General Education

What Can You Do if Your Professor Is Verbally Abusive

What Can You Do if Your Professor Is Verbally Abusive
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Emma Yenko September 3, 2014

Nobody should have to endure being verbally abused by another person, let alone one who is supposed to guide your education.

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College life is full of transitions — and rightly so. You are moving from childhood to full-fledged adulthood; while this can be an amazing journey, expect to go through some rough patches.

Through it all however, college gives you the opportunity to test and strengthen your adult muscles to prepare you for life in the real world. Some of your staunchest advocates on this leg of your journey are your college professors, many of whom deem it a privilege to be a part of a young person’s road to adulthood. This is why it can be very disturbing to encounter a verbally abusive professor when he is the very person from whom you expect guidance and understanding.

Identifying Abusive Language

It’s important to remember that most college professors are hard-working professionals who genuinely want their students to learn and succeed. That said, professors will sometimes openly critique your work or performance in class.

No matter how brutally honest this assessment may be, as long as it is directed and focused solely on your work and not on your person, try to profit from the experience. Your professor is pointing out your weaknesses and mistakes so you can learn from them and grow. This may not always be a comfortable experience, but it is all part of the learning process.

However, when you are constantly being ridiculed, put down, or made to feel inadequate in some way, whether in private or in front of others, you are being abused. No one has the right to do this to you and make you feel this way. Inappropriate language has no place in any classroom, and most especially not when it’s coming from the professor.

Some clear examples of verbal abuse include the following:

  • Wanton swearing during lectures or class discussions -threats
  • Offensive nicknames
  • Sexual, sexist, homophobic, or racist language
  • Hurtful and sarcastic comments directed at your person

If you have been a victim of verbal abuse, know that you do not have to suffer in silence, and you can take steps to put an end to it.

Consult Your Peers

You are the best judge of whether you have been a victim of verbal abuse because no one else can know how you feel every time you hear abusive language directed at you. However, it may help to talk to other students in the class and check your experience against their own. If you can establish a pattern of abuse that has gone unchecked, this will bolster your case if you need to bring it to the attention of a higher authority.

Remember Who You Are

Very often, victims of verbal abuse internalize the hurtful words and start to believe what the abuser is saying. This is true whether the abuse is taking place within a personal relationship, in a professional setting, or in the classroom.

To avoid falling into this trap, talk to the people who know you well. Let them remind you of your great qualities and successes, of your dreams and plans for your life. Reacquaint yourself with your better self, and do not let one person’s abusive language rob you of your right to determine your future.

Talk to Your Professor

When you are ready, make an appointment to see your professor at a good time so you can have a real adult conversation. Come with a friend if it will bolster your case and your courage.

Remain calm, rational, and respectful, and use clear and unambiguous language. Tell your professor how his language makes you feel and how it is affecting not only your performance in the class, but your self-esteem as well. Your teacher may genuinely be unaware that his language is inappropriate or hurtful. Open the door to an open and honest dialogue. Who knows? Your professor might surprise you. He may issue a sincere apology and thank you for caring enough to help him grow as a person.

Elevate Your Case

When all else fails, and your professor continues to use verbally abusive language, it’s time to go a step further. Document the behavior by recording the lectures in secret and compiling statements from past victims. When you think you have enough abusive material to serve as Exhibit A, present your case to the appropriate department or person in charge. Do not let verbally abusive behavior go unchecked. It is not only very damaging to your psyche; it also gives power to a bully who can continue to hurt others simply because he is allowed to get away with it.

Words have the power to create or destroy. Don’t let a professor’s abusive language derail your education or damage your self-esteem. Without disregarding your feelings, engage your professor in a meaningful dialogue, and work with him to resolve the situation. If your professor exhibits no change of behavior, do not be afraid to contact the proper university department to mediate.


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