The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Professors are people, too

By Taylor Henry

I learned more in college than I ever have before. No surprise.

Every teacher and parent at my high school told me to expect this. These were going to be the “best four years of my life.” I had these conversations often because I tend to talk with older people.

Maturity, wisdom, stories, experience—whatever is contained in that age—attracts me.

Thankfully, I went to a small school. The teachers care for the students. They desire to see them succeed. They enjoy watching young people grow to become less-young people. I was able to have friendships with a small group of those teachers. We had conversations between classes, over lunch, or in study hall.

Professors teach small classes at SMU. This was rare to see in my other college visits.

Colleges with large class sizes did not interest me. I worried I would get lost in the crowd of students, and never know the professors. And worse, the professors would never know me.

Some friends agree with me. Others stand opposed.

They enjoy the anonymity of a big class, and the lower pressure that comes with it. But my time at SMU reinforced my position. I began to wonder why students avoided making friendships with professors. This question annoyed me for months. The first satisfying answer arrived during breakfast with a professor-friend. The concept has developed into one of the greatest lessons I learned in college: Professors are people.

As all good lessons, principles, and clichés, this phrase functions as catch-all, explanatory wisdom. Much insight loses its wisdom, becoming mere advice, because it loses its context. “Professors are people” does not change professors.

It changes the perception of professors.

They keep the expertise and life experience which usually sets them apart from students in the first place.

The differentiation between student and professor is natural and beneficial for our social order. I do not propose that professors lose or students gain authority in a way that equalizes their roles. But students and professors share humanity. Expertise differentiates “us” from “them.”

What if that expertise motivated conversation instead of discouraging it?

The process of making friends with professors is difficult.

Is that surprising?

The process of making friends is difficult. Delicate and unspoken expectations create a series of obstacles. The risk of messing up seems higher.

What does that mean for those who “make it” through?

There is only a small number, and thus there is esteem. I love the imagery of “a bull in a china shop.” This is a critical statement because we judge the actions (rather than the intentions) of the bull.

Does it matter that the bull has no intention of destroying the precious china? (Stay with me:) The china is broken. But what if the china maker knows the bull doesn’t intend to break it? What if both want the bull to appreciate the work? A friendship between a student and a professor is of enjoyment to both. The student approaches with humility and the professor with grace.

Make a friendship with a professor this year. Be curious. Be humble. And remember, professors are people.

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