This past semester, I made friends with a new girl at school, who’s getting her second degree. Kim* is the opposite of me in a lot of ways, from her habits (pretty OCD) to her dude preferences (makes fun of my long-haired crushes, calls them ladymen) to her outward demeanor (total musical-theater personality). But that’s why she’s so awesome! We initially bonded over mutual creative crises, as neither of us was fully convinced of the art-school program we’d put ourselves in. This frequently led to tearful existential questionings after class.
Kim was spread especially thin last week as we were wrapping up our group projects in our interaction design classes. We would be on Facebook chat until three every morning, sending each other revisions of papers and design concepts, and saying how awesome they were, because sometimes you just need to hear that when you hit the end of the road.
Last Wednesday she came to class especially upset. I thought it was just about finals. But when I asked her what was up, I learned that in the span of one night, she had broken up with her dickwad boyfriend and found out that her aunt, whom she’s close to, has cancer. During the breakup the dickwad sent her cruel messages about sleeping with other women, told her she should change her hair, and said other things that were so revolting I wanted to find him and point my pink mace canister at his face.
We met up before class the next day and she seemed so much better, almost chipper. It was our last class of the semester, which entailed a painfully long critique of everyone’s final projects. A crit is where each group gives a presentation of their work, then stands in front of the class like deer in headlights while their instructors, guest professionals, and fellow students interrogate them about their designs. Critiques can be OK if you like and are ready to defend your work, but when you’re not into what you’re turning in, they’re like a knife to the heart.
Kim’s group presented first, and they received pretty positive feedback, certainly nothing to be unhappy about. For the rest of class, though, I could see from the other side of the room that her mood was plummeting and her nose was getting red from crying. When you have to sit through three hours of people droning on about their work in a critique, it’s easy to get lost in thought, and I’m sure the thoughts she was getting lost in were the sad ones. I wanted to hug her again, but I had to wait until after the crit.
At the end of the critique our instructor, who is known to be a real hard-ass, provided some closing remarks about how much we have improved, what we can still work on as a group, how we were a pleasure to teach…yawn. Then he casually dropped some comment about my friend that went, “Now that she’s out of the room, I can say that I applaud you all for not crying over your critiques.” He said this for laughs. A couple people did laugh, until they realized that she was still in the room.
That made me want to cry…for a second. Then I wanted to punch the shit out of the teacher’s smug face. I didn’t have time to find Kim before she tearfully slid out of the room, but I was steaming. I packed up my backpack slowly as I waited for the room to clear out. I asked the instructor if I could have a minute with him. THEN I CLOCKED HIM IN THE FACE!
Just kidding, I’m not that intense. And I still have to get a grade from this guy. I tried to summon courage through the quiver of my nervous-sad voice, and I told him that Kim wasn’t the type of person to broadcast her problems, but she had just gone through all of that personal stuff in the last two days. I told him that he shouldn’t talk shit about people as soon as they’ve left the room, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY HAVEN’T, and to have some sensitivity about people’s emotional lives outside of the classroom. I told him that you’ll never know anyone’s full story, so you better not act like you do. I told him this straight in the eyes—he’s not even an inch taller than me. It was super uncomfortable. Whatever. I hoped that he would go to sleep hating himself that night.
I’d never called anyone out like that before. Not even when they’ve done bad things to me. I just let the feelings kind of stew inside, and then figure out how to get over them. But I didn’t see this as something Kim had to learn to deal with. I saw it as someone else having to learn that being an asshole isn’t OK.
I don’t think anyone should have to deal with people being total assholes. That’s not, like, a skill we should be required to learn in school. Instead, we should learn how NOT TO BE ASSHOLES OURSELVES. ♦
* This name has been changed.