By JANIS MAHNURE
May 12, 2018
“This brilliant man who was intrigued by me but not enough to hear me out. Just enough to reel me in and spit out his reality.”
Disclaimer: This is about my personal experience, and I in no way wish to generalize the white race, nor the male gender–I’ve had tons of white male professors who were amazing. However, we must also admit that they dominate the field, and their rhetoric has determined the field for a very long time. Due to the trend of my experience, I have proposed this title to be taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps their whiteness, and their gender has nothing to do it, perhaps it does.
I was sitting in an interdisciplinary honors class a few years ago where all my classmates had GPA’s over 3.7. We studied a blend of the fields of anatomy and art.
A professor from the biology department, teaching an honors class in which you needed an A to remain in the program said something about evolution and can you believe there are people who put stories like genesis before it. The class awkwardly laughed.
I recall smiling uncomfortably. Not sure if I should ever say anything against his views for fear of retaliation, for fear of the class becoming tense. For my final paper, I handed in a thorough literary review of embryological development in the Quran, and I did get an A, submitted it for an award, and the paper received Best Paper in an Honors Colloquial. But to this day, I still ask myself why I didn’t speak up on behalf of all religions to an atheist, male, white professor.
Why I didn’t perk up and say that evolution is a theory, not a law. That you could believe in evolution, in survival of the fittest, in everything from water, but still believe in the story of Adam and Eve because the theory of evolution has gaps, there are sister-species, chains, that it is more complicated than what you or I know–that regardless of it being accepted by scientists, it does not give license to jab religion. Not here. Not now.
Fast forward to me as an adjunct lecturer leaving the office of my once admirable professor, in a disarray. He’s a brilliant man, the one who wrote me the recommendation letter that almost got me into the PhD program for which I was waitlisted at the age of twenty-one. Whom I wrote two papers with, who was my honors advisor, my mentor. Who opened my eyes to the world of public relations and propaganda. This brilliant man who was intrigued by me but not enough to hear me out. Just enough to reel me in and spit out his reality.
You won’t like hearing this but your religion isn’t real. He moves forward the subject, with a lacking knowledge of Islam to make a claim on the Bible and Adam having a wife before Eve. He opens his browser to a Bible that says a faint name of Lilith. So I ask if he has read the Bible in its original Aramaic language for him to be studying and then teaching his students such.
You won’t like hearing this but your religion isn’t real.
He reacts as if I have said something preposterous, “It’s an ancient language, no one speaks it, no one reads it, so no of course not.” He became loud. I’ve never seen him in that manner. As if my question distraught him. I couldn’t say the rest–that as an academic, as a historian, as a doctorate, that if he wished to make a claim and teach it academically, should it not be from more than a translation of the Bible from a web page.
It brought to my attention more and more, that he was not out and about in my support. In our graduate seminar class, when I participated and offered thoughts about the western world’s modern day normalization of constant music in our ears might have something to do with the deterioration of other possible senses, he retorted back asking do I not chant during prayer.
A word that doesn’t actually have a negative connotation but the way he said it made me feel flustered. No, I don’t chant. There is no noise when I pray. I pray quietly, in the musky staircase, during the five minute break he gives us.
But for some reason, when I made comments in class, it was always referred back to my religion. Perhaps it is because I do often love making connections to it. But it’s not every single time. It’s not that every word I utter in this graduate class of all white older students is about my religion. I do have other things to say to the twelve of you white folks.
But maybe it is my black burqa wearing, hijab-clad, striking appearance in your classrooms meant for…dare I say it?
Fast forward again, a different professor. One who challenged me in my concepts of media, corporations, capitalism. He confused me and shut me down and then smiled and said I was fit for the job regardless of my age. Said he was impressed by my pieces, my thoughts, my credentials. I left the room jumping for joy, smiling cheek to cheek, rushing to the prayer room to thank God with a prayer, for another golden opportunity. A few days later, we sat in a meeting. Two head professors, both male, both white, and four adjuncts of color.
All religions, no matter what you think of them, deserve respect.
He makes commentary. Laughs. Can you believe people think we humans could live on the earth while dinosaurs existed. I did not laugh. I did not smile. I refuse to make a mockery of someone else’s beliefs just as one would refuse to make mockery of someone’s skin color. It is who they are. Your freedom of speech should have a filter of respect, you are an academic, you need to maintain decorum.
All religions, no matter what you think of them, deserve respect. Particularly in an academic setting. It is one thing to have living room conversations about how silly you think a particular belief is, it is something else to sit inside an institution that waves flags of diversity and inclusion, and make jest.
You can write papers, disagree, question, criticize, analyze, differentiate, study, portray, express, argue – all of this and more. All of this is acceptable. But to make jest. Make mockery. Laugh as if your way is the most correct way.
I do not laugh at your beliefs of there existing no God. You cannot, by the limited knowledge of our being, prove or disprove the existence of God. Even, within the context of Islam, I can say that I can prove God exists by the natural phenomenons and other signs, but my proofs mean nothing to you just as your disproving means nothing to me. But I don’t make a mockery of your beliefs. As it is not okay to make a mockery of mine, of Christianity, of Judaism, of Hinduism, of anything, especially,in an academic setting.
So this time, I made a face. A questioning. Are you serious? Kind of face.
His chuckle fades, he clears his throat: well, I welcome discussion and disagreements and different perspectives, after all, what does it say that we have two white men lecturing this course. We need and want your thoughts.
I accepted my small win. And didn’t say anything further, my own commitments made me rush out.
But I write this now, a few days before I get to teach an introductory class about the world, about media studies, about thinking critically. Monday morning at 9AM. Incoming freshmen get to have perhaps their first ever college class with me as their instructor. Ready to break everything they know about this field. Ready to shatter their stereotypes of what it means to a Muslim women.
And I want to write this to the past me, or perhaps the present you, to tell you, to not let it slide. No matter what religion. To not let an academic professor slide with his snide remarks on religion, religiosity, spirituality.
Allowing space for everyone’s opinions also means holding the intellectual and “open minded” from among them – into account. There is a very visible and solid line between jecture and jest. And our professors should be very well aware of it.
Janis Mahnure is currently obtaining her Master in Fine Arts and works as an adjunct professor teaching various media courses. She has an Master’s in Marketing from Zicklin School of Business and a BA in Media Studies from Hunter College. She also writes on a Facebook based blog called Drops of Knowledge.