A few years ago I had been talking to colleagues about the discomforts of dealing with stressed-out students, when one announced that he has a strict “no crying” policy for his office. Intriguingly, the way he phrased this made it sound like it was something he was proud to stand by — as if he had just said he had a strict “no cheating” policy, or something like that. Listening, I asked myself why I hadn’t ever even considered such a policy. Was I just too stupid, or too weak?
It wasn’t until I was preparing my application for tenure that I realized how angry I felt about my colleague’s stance on this issue. I wanted to ask him: What do you think happens to the tearful students you turn away? Do you think your office rules force your students to suddenly stop having the urge to cry? Or force them to finally get professional help, so that they’ll no longer need to cry in front of their professors? Well, what really happens is that your students a) feel worse and b) bottle up their feelings until they meet a professor with more flexible policies. Probably a professor who is a woman, because a woman with a “no crying” policy like yours would be widely disrespected and disliked by students for being a bitch.
Our students have signed up for college, not for bootcamp. Sure, they should be encouraged and taught to cope with stress in ways that will help them come across as professional, but they can’t be expected to have thoroughly mastered those skills on any schedule, let alone the schedule best suited to a particular professor’s convenience. And some of the reasons students cry are just as legitimate as reasons that anyone would cry. For example, several students have tearfully talked to me after friends of theirs died or nearly died by suicide. Even if I hadn’t been trained as therapist before becoming a professor, I would consider it cruel and inappropriate to prohibit them from crying in my office.
If you proudly announce that you prohibit crying, you may as well advertise that you refuse to help injured students stop bleeding – because you can count on the women in your department to clean up the mess.