5 Tips for Speaking Up to a Professor

Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place: a revered professor has just perpetuated a rape myth (e.g. an unfounded statement that rationalizes and justifies sexual assault) and it’s only week five. What do you do now? Drop the class? Let it go?

These might be the easiest solutions, but we know that by allowing rape myths to go unchallenged we are perpetuating an oppressive culture and contributing to the problem. But what can we say? And how do we say it?  It certainly isn’t an easy feat, but here are five tips to help you manage your way out of that tough spot.

1. Language.

When addressing the professor it is important to use respectful and constructive language. Address ze[1] by the title indicated to you in class – Professor _____, Dr. ______, or by ze’s first name, if that is ze’s preference. Similarly, try to refrain from using “you” statements, and focus on the use of “I” statements. For example, “I felt very uncomfortable by that comment” as opposed to “You made me feel uncomfortable.” It is also important to consider tone, as an aggressive tone may make the professor feel that ze is being accused or judged. These feelings may result in ze shutting down. However, respectful and constructive language allows us to create a safe conversation to influence positive change.

2. Timing

While it is important to address these behaviors when they are expressed since it may impact others, consider confronting the behavior privately. Perhaps you can stay after class to speak with the professor, or you could schedule to meet with them during office hours. By addressing the issue privately, the two of you will be able to discuss the comment without publicly shaming anyone, and how comments like that are detrimental to creating a safer Carolina.

3. Seeking Outside Assistance.

If you feel as though you are unable to speak with the professor, it may be best to seek assistance from another authority figure. Perhaps you will be comfortable going to another professor in the department, or to your own adviser. Additionally, should you ever feel unsafe speaking with a professor about the issue, contact a campus resource, like the confidential Ombuds Office or Gender Violence Services Coordinator, or the (private but not confidential) Equal Opportunity and Compliance office.

4. Suggest Education.

Knowledge is power! If you feel that someone is working with wrong information, invite ze to attend a training session, such as HAVEN. This will give ze a better knowledge base, as well as some skills to create a safe community. Trainings are available for both students and faculty, so don’t be worried about passing on some training dates.

5. Be Confident. (and go with a friend, if you need to)

It can be hard to confront an authority figure, and sometimes you may even second-guess your decision to do so. Do not be afraid to speak up! You know when something is wrong. Trust yourself and follow through. Chances are good that you aren’t the only one who noticed the problematic behavior or comment. Try asking a classmate what they thought and if the two of you seem to be equally uncomfortable, ask ze to go with you. It can be especially helpful to make plan in advance for what you will say together.

This is your community and you deserve to be safe. When someone – anyone – challenges that safety, you have the right to speak out. Change certainly isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth it.

For more information on how you can create a safer Carolina, sign up for a One Act training!


[1] “Ze” is a gender-neutral pronoun. It can be used for people who do not identify on the gender binary (e.g. male or female).

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