by Dr. Eric Anthony Grollman

That Time I Was Mistaken As A Student

student or professor?

student or professor?

I have heard other instructors, particularly young women and especially young women of color, who express frustration with being mistaken as a student.  I have been on guard for this, spending just an extra second to think about a stranger’s surprise when I introduce myself as “Dr. Grollman” or noting that I am a professor.  Sure, few people in the world hold PhDs, and even fewer are professors.  So, I let their surprise slide as a matter of probability.  And, when on campus, I remember that I am a new face, giving others the benefit of the doubt.

But, I have never been mistaken as something else — until yesterday.  I went to my campus’s library to check out a film that I may show in my social inequalities class — PBS’s RACE: The Power of An Illusion.  Of course, the only video missing from its shelf was the one I needed.  How did someone check this out so quickly?  I just saw it listed online as available on Friday!  I noticed there were some videos behind the library student worker — maybe those that had been checked out and returned, but not yet processed.  I saw it!  In bigger letters on a white cover: RACE.

So, I asked the student staff member whether that was the video I was looking for, and whether I could check it out.  “Sure, but you’ll only have it for four hours, and you’ll have to watch it here.”  That seemed strange, so I asked why this was available in such limited use; I wanted to show this in my class.  “Oh, you’re the professor who put this on reserve?!”  “Yes!”  She scanned my ID and began the process to check it out to me.  I asked, “do I look that young?”  I was being polite, and trying to give the benefit of the doubt.  But, my mind was already wondering… “it would happen as I’m checking out a video on race and racism…”

“It’s the hat.”  Huh?  Upon explaining, she said many (men) students wear the hat I had on.  Oh, ok.  Strange.  I joked that I would donate the hat so I would no longer be mistaken as a student.  She assured me it was not a bad thing.  Whew, okay, so this was not about race (on the surface).  “Also, professors tend to be more demanding.”  HA!  I quickly responded,  “well, that’s not a part of our training.”  As it turns out, it was on reserve.  I missed that part.  So, I could not check it out anyhow, at least not without asking the professor who put it on reserve to borrow it temporarily.

The hat’s fate is debatable.  Sometimes, I do not mind disappearing — at least as an obvious professor — to just get where I need to go on campus.  But, the idea that many students wear the same hat is planted in my head.  In terms of being more polite than other professors, I am more than happy to be an outlier.