I am the compassion police (letter)

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To the editors:

I’ve been a lecturer for 12 years. For the first few years, I firmly stuck to the concept of “rigor,” as outlined in this recently published essay Within the Higher Ed. For me that meant going out of attendance, turning on plagiarism detection software, turning students into student affairs for breaking the rules, and exhaustion.

So I stopped.

When a student tells me he’s sick, I believe him.

When a student tells me his computer died, I believe him.

When a student tells me they had a family emergency, I believe them.

I want faculties that believe rigor comes before compassion to explain why they believe the two cannot exist at the same time. Rigor is poorly operationalized in this context, a trap I would expect researchers to avoid. Rigor is a standard we set. If an exam aborts after 50 minutes, prevents browser functionality, and requires student monitoring, then that exam will not necessarily be rigorous. But it gets tedious, frustrating, and stressful. That sounds like police work and not at all like compassion.

My students create knowledge. My students stand on the shoulders of these giants and learn from those on our very own timeline. You read Marx completely and get to know Goffman through conversations with others. I allow them to look up answers because additional interaction with content is a good thing. They write auto-ethnographies, learn to recognize methodical quicksand and tell me how our course helped them understand the world.

None of this requires policing. However, it’s pretty strict.

As they say, I don’t know how to convince you to care about others. If you can’t have extra compassion after 39,000,000 COVID-19 cases in the United States, I don’t know how to convince you.

If I am the compassion guardian, so be it. Do better yourself and do better through your students. The strict police are no better educators, just better rule makers.

I am the compassion police

–Alana M. Anton
Lecturer
North Carolina A&T State University
Technical college of the three-circle
University of West Georgia


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