Aug 8, 2021Liked by Timothy Burke

I can, and do, explain why I am not “Misty” to my current students. “Prof. Bastian” is a distinct social entity—a mentor, perhaps, but not one’s friend, not for the four years of our college interaction in the separate roles of teacher and student. “Prof. Bastian” represents a public persona who has authority based upon a certain social position, her educational attainments, and her decades’ worth of pedagogical experience. Once they graduate, my students are welcome to refer to me in the other register, although many of them find it hard to do. In terms of Victor Turner’s discussion of liminality, I’m the initiate, and they are the initiands. Absolute equality among the initiands, but not so much with the initiates.

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I think all we need to do is explain. And maybe therefore own the idea of that social distinction, which is what I think leads some faculty to avoid the explanation--they don't know how to explain or rationalize that distinction as a social fact or as a value system, but they do know they value the formality nevertheless. I think maybe here anthropologists, sociologists, historians and some humanists have a bit of an inside edge when it comes to making clear explanations that aren't just arbitrary statements of personal preference. But every faculty member or administrator needs an explanation that is patient and careful any time they want to enforce or underscore an implicit rule about conduct.

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