Unwanted Advances

We’ve talked before. There are specific issues you want to address that emerged from others’ experiences and your own. As far as I remember, you’re also making work about them. Could you explain them, and how you plan to address them through your work?

I’m currently working on my thesis project with a topic about Asian women being stereotyped, itemized and even fetishized. The reason I want to work around this topic is that something happened to me while I was a sophomore. There was a professor in our program that had special interests in Asians, especially Chinese. At first, we did not know that he had special interests in Asians. We thought that he was just interested in our culture and being oddly friendly professor. But things got a little bit weird along with the semester. He is a smart man, he didn’t do anything that would get him caught, but that does not mean the racism never exists. So I took the chance in thesis and decided to make works about problems like this. I want to use photographs and videos to describe how I felt after being seen as a different figure. I will collect audios of Asian women who had the similar experience and put into an installation at the end of this project.

What kinds of things did he do?

Well, at the beginning of the semester he gave us a questionnaire about basic photography techniques. But on that questionnaire, he asked us about our personal information such as personal email and phone number. He took pictures of every student in the class to help memorize our name, but I received an email from him that had my picture attached with the sentence, “You can use this picture for your dating website.” Not just me, my other friends got the exact email with their pictures attached. In that class, we always have individual critiques with him in the office. I remember that he asked me which city of China I came from, and he told me he had lots of shows in China. At the end of our first critique, I walk out of his office with lots of copies of his articles and a business card with his Chinese personal number. But I got into a disagreement with him because he accused me appropriated others work. Due to the language barrier, I misunderstand him while he asked if my work was “appropriated”, I thought he asked if my work was “appropriate.” I explain to him many times, but he won’t believe in me and ask me for individual meeting many many times but still did not give me my marks. He called me one time on a private phone with “No Caller ID” as title, asked about things that I explain to him many times. After I received that call, I immediately get in touch with the faculty office and reported what happened. Every time I saw him in school I tried ignoring him, but he always finds a way to start a conversation, such as “You look so different,” “Did you wear makeup?” A year after, I received a “No Caller ID” phone call four times one night, I picked, nobody talks but only breathing sound.

That’s crazy. I can think of a situation where “You can use this picture for your dating website” could have been meant humoristically, but the rest of the stuff you tell me makes me think otherwise. Personally, I’ve never encountered such immediately personal contact from any professor, so this seems odd to me. I would be very uncomfortable. I wonder if you think he knows this is inappropriate, but keeps doing it regardless. I also wonder what he’s trying to get at with all this stuff.

You mentioned you thought he’d never do anything that would get him caught. I’d like to disagree on that. He has done all these things already, and we’re talking about them now. I do think many people will know who this is about once they read it.

Beyond telling a story that’s real and that you think needs to be told, what do you think will happen? Have you ever heard of anybody with similar experiences, with him or other people, who have spoken up like you? Because even if I disagreed on him not getting “caught,” getting caught doesn’t necessarily imply anything will change. He’s been at OCAD for many years, I would think many faculty and alumni know.

Yes, a joke from a professor could be humor and also good for contact with the class. But I don’t think a joke about dating website from a professor via emails is anyhow appropriate. Considering his interest, and some dating culture in Asia, I can easily connect his joke with Asia’s mailing order bride. Because I’m here in Canada on a student visa, my main goal here is processed my academic studies, a joke like this to me is somehow offensive and questioning my intention in Canada. And because we are in an institution space, I think everything should be  focus more on academic other than personal things. This joke not only offended me but also make me question his impartiality as a professor.

I have heard from another girl, she had the similar experience as me but worst. Her professor told her that she could get a PR just by living with a Canadian, and he said as I quote “I am a professor, have a car and a house.” The reason why sexual harassment would happen in academic institutions is that students are maturer, the relationship between a teacher and student could be more complicated. And because how much power a professor has, they can simply use academic problems such as grades to imply something towards students.

That authority they have, and the issue with grades are very complicated subjects. It’s crazy how they can get tangled and confusing, especially when you add a situation like this to the mix.
Earlier you said you reported that call to the faculty office. What happened after that? Did anything change?

As students, we always respect our professors, not because of their authorities, but the support they give us and things they teach us. I think teacher is a respectable career, a good teacher can inspire and change students. With the help and support from my other professors and other faculty members, this professor left the school. Even though this happened two years later, I’m still very glad to see him gone. After this happened to me I was felt very disappointed by the school, I was even thinking of drop out. But I met other professors that are very supportive and inspirational, they give me hope to trust the system again.