Auntie Matter on absent advisees, bitter boys, and creepy classmates
If you have questions for Auntie Matter, please submit them at tinyurl.com/AskAuntieMatter. Questions have been edited for length, clarity, and content.
Dear Auntie Matter,
My students and advisees don’t read or respond to my emails and don’t show up to events and meetings that I schedule for them. What should I do?
— Forlorn Faculty
Auntie is flattered that the faculty are now reaching out to her for advice! She hopes she can be of some assistance despite her position as a mere undergraduate (though an undergraduate older than time itself).
You ask “what should I do?,” but the answer to this question depends on many factors, not least the age of your students. Auntie assumes you are an undergraduate advisor. If your question is about graduate students, you likely have a serious problem, and the matter is, as they say, above Auntie’s pay grade. Graduate student advisees (theoretically) have a much closer relationship to their advisors, the dynamics of which Auntie will not pretend to understand.
Auntie suggests understanding why your students don’t respond or show up to things, and tailoring your strategy for improving things that way. There might be some systematic issue with scheduling, like scheduling during 5–7 p.m., when athletes have practice. Or, maybe students are accidentally filtering your emails. Depending on how involved you want to be here, you could suggest your students set up their email so they always see your messages, by starring them or something similar. Are they students who once were responsive and engaged, and have since changed? If your students were once responsive, you might reach out to them and ask them if everything is going okay, because sudden changes in behavior might be indicative of some difficulty.
Unfortunately, especially if you are advising upperclassmen, you may just have to lower your expectations. Students might have an issue with how you communicate or might not like you, but the most likely answer is that they are just apathetic. If students do not value the time and effort you put in to reaching out to them, then you can just do whatever would be best for you and not focus as much on reaching out to them. Insofar as you can keep low expectations about student responsiveness, you might be less disappointed. Obviously that does not make it any less annoying, but if you cannot change your students’ behavior, perhaps you can change how you experience that behavior.
Dear Auntie Matter,
I was trying to date/have a friends with benefits relationship with this guy, but the last time we met, he did a few things that offended me. After that, he kept trying to see me, and I deferred a few times before eventually explaining that he had made me uncomfortable, so I did not want to see him in person but was okay to talk online. He lost it and blocked me, which confused me because I didn’t even want to talk. I don’t think I could have handled it better, but it still bothers me. How do I feel better about this?
— Blocked by Bitter Boy
You seem to already know this, but if you tried to set this boundary in a reasonable way, then his overreaction is ultimately his responsibility here.
To put this a different way — why feel bad about the situation at all? Auntie suspects the main reason is that you think you hurt this guy’s feelings. If this is the case, try reexamining your actions in the situation. If you stand by your actions — if you think that setting this boundary was the correct decision and that you set it in an appropriate way — then you should remind yourself of that. You could not have hurt his feelings less. You could not have controlled his reaction more.
Furthermore, even if you reexamine the situation and conclude you made some mistakes, then what’s done is done, and Auntie believes you should try to forget about it. There is no reason to remember this guy except to carry any lessons you learned from the situation forward.
It’s also possible that you feel like you should have foreseen this scenario and not gotten involved with this guy in the first place. Auntie believes this is an unreasonable expectation — we can never know what will happen when we enter into a relationship.
So, how can you feel better about the situation? Auntie does have two pieces of practical advice: first, if you have any e-exchanges with this young man, you should delete them, so you cannot keep reading them over. This will remove the temptation to dwell entirely. Second, you might want to decide that you will not have a relationship at all with this person for the foreseeable future. You might be worrying about whether he will “forgive” you, or something like that, but it is likely better to give yourself a clean break. Both of these actions will help you stop thinking about and replaying what happened.
Dear Auntie Matter,
In my class, which has a participation grade, and where I know the professor, I saw something absolutely disgusting. There was this guy peeling his fingernails off with a multitool. There was blood everywhere. My worry about this is that I looked openly disgusted in the class, and I have a relationship with the professor, so he might have noticed how grossed out I looked and I’m worried he will think I was being disrespectful. Should I say anything to the prof?
— Nauseated Notetaker
Auntie normally wouldn’t speak so crassly, but she feels the need to say: this is some next-level horror movie shit.
Auntie has mostly included this question due to the same impulse that likely led you to ask it: the desire to inflict a disgusting story on others once we ourselves have endured it.
Auntie’s advice is simple: If you noticed that the professor saw your expression, you could explain to him what happened, perhaps somewhat more delicately than above. Regardless of whether the professor saw, you could also go to the course staff and explain that your peer’s behavior in class is making it hard to focus.
Finally: stay away from the man with the multitool.