Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award

What’s appropriate to wear to class?

2 Comments

This just happened.

I was sitting in my office and typing an email message . A trio of students walked past my wide open door, and I noticed that one student’s shirt said “suck dick” on it. So I stepped out into the hall and asked him, rather jovially, “Hey, can I see what your shirt says?”

Here’s what it said:

You can’t suck my dick while talking, so shut the fuck up.

I’m not for censorship. I think people should wear what they please, and I occasionally teach wearing a dashiki. But I’m glad I’m not the one who’s got this guy in his classroom today. I’m going to guess most instructors are just going to ignore it. Why attract further attention? However, right now I’m wondering how I would handle it if he came to my class wearing that thing.

I’ve responded to students’ t-shirts before by assigning research projects. A guy who came into my class wearing a hammer and sickle got to do a project about the Gulag. Another guy sporting a Che t-shirt got to read Ay, Cuba, A Socio-Erotic Journey. But how do you turn this kind of frat-boy belligerence into a learning experience? “Here, watch all 44 episodes of Keeping Up Appearances, then write a paper on how etiquette and protocol can be contrived to equal passive aggression.”

For the record, when I was 16, I had a t-shirt that said Shut Up, Bitch. I bought it in California following a nasty bit of heart-wringing over a girl, and I wore it to a few beach parties and a summer camp. One of my dearest friends in the world, a woman who knows me through-and-through, two years my elder, took me to the side and said, “I don’t think that shirt’s like you. It’s just taking the hurt you feel and hurting others with it.” After that I never wore it again.

So, perhaps it’s best to leave these kinds of things to the peers to sort through. Again, I’m glad I don’t have to make a decision.

Here’s a photo of me in my dashiki, as photographed by my 5 year-old daughter in Vilnius this past July. I often teach class this way:

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2 thoughts on “What’s appropriate to wear to class?

  1. Terrific and relevant post. And rather depressing that we’ve reached the point where we have to consider whether or not asking a student not to wear a t-shirt that reads “You can’t suck my dick while talking, so shut the fuck up” in school is “censorship” or not.

  2. Well, all of this is to the point, right? My job is to teach young people about ideas, all of them. And so the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable to wear sexually aggressive language on one’s clothing should be viable, worth examining. Why is it okay to provoke in a work of art but not in a t-shirt? Is this guy’s shirt targeting one gender specifically, or does he want the whole world to suck him or be quiet? Who finds it humorous or blithe?

    The more I think about it, the more I can’t see letting him sit in my classroom. In the meantime, I’d come up with an assignment for him.

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