That time I was sexually harassed by my college professor.

In order to fulfill my undergraduate requirement in International Relations at UC Davis, I had to complete two economics courses – both chosen with great temerity as they where they only courses where my poor understanding of math and graphs could expose me as a great fraud that should have never passed third grade.  I got sexually harassed in only one of those courses, and to be fair, it hardly ruined my whole college experience, it only added to the tapestry of awkward encounters that enhance my understanding of human motivation and behavior.

I’m going to call this guy Prof. Wierdo because I don’t remember his name and as you will eventually find out, he was also slightly insane. He was a tall, balding, lanky white guy with bulgy eyes and a peppered mustache. He looked to be in his late 50’s.

So, I chose this class, which was the Economics of Something-or-Other, because it explained economics in conceptual as opposed to mathematical terms.  On Rate the, students gave Prof. Wierdo a mediocre grade of C because of his insipid PowerPoint presentations and his poorly worded exams.  Indeed, some female students pointed out his “weird” tendency to stare at the babes sitting in the front row, and while there was a consensus that his class was difficult, some students suggested that the best way to pass it was by memorizing all the slides.  Taking their advice to heart, I enrolled in the class, memorized EVERY single slide, and just regurgitated the slides VERBATIM during the exams.  No critical thinking was required. Out of a class of about 100, I got the second highest score in the class – meaning someone memorized the slides better than I did.

I took this class around the time that I was preparing to apply for graduate school.  I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, or what I wanted to study, but I knew I would eventually need letters of recommendations. Ever the planner, I decided to start developing a rapport with Prof. Wierdo as well as with some other professors whose classes I had excelled at.  Wierdo also taught at the UC Berkley School of Public Health and considering my outstanding grade in his class, I thought a letter of recommendation from him would look good on my application. For two months, I attended his office hours to discuss grad school programs – Urban Planning, Public Health, and Social Work.

Two months later, I had my list of potential programs and was sending out applications. On the last day that I planned to meet with him, Prof. Wierdo canceled his office hours but offered instead to meet me a little later at The Graduate – a student hang out with cheap beers, booze, and burgers.  I agreed to meet in order to ask him for a letter of recommendation. You see, I was in a precarious situation. My Spanish Lit professor who used to show up half an hour late to class if he graced us with his presence at all, had agreed to write me a letter, but in his extreme flake fashion, was not replying to my e-mails regarding the recommendation he had agreed to write. In such a short time-frame, I could not afford to have another professor flake on my letter of recommendation.

After my late afternoon class, I rushed to The Graduate to meet with Prof. Wierdo. Pay attention to this part, it goes from normal to weird fast.

“Let’s have a beer!” he suggested, “I’m buying.”

Sure, why not? We started talking the usual grad school bullshit. I asked him about his work experience and his research and before I knew it, the conversation veered to his personal life – his Graduate thesis, his work experience. I took small sips of my beer.

“So you live in Berkley and commute here?! That’s a two hour drive!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, I bought a house with my wife when real-estate was cheap.”

“I can’t imagine it ever being cheap in the Bay Area,” I took a sip of beer. “What does your wife do?”

“She is disabled.”

“Uhmmm…” Yikes! Change the subject to something less perilous.

“She has multiple sclerosis and is wheelchair bound,” he confessed.

“Errrr…that’s not good.”

“We used to be very active, but now I have to take care of her, and it’s a total burden,” he rambled as I scanned my brain for other topics.  “I have no life outside of work anymore.  She needs help with everything from going to the bathroom and wiping to bathing,” he continued, sounding increasingly agitated.

“It sounds like a difficult situation for you, but she is lucky to have such a devoted husband,” I pointed out, trying to look sympathetic despite feeling increasingly gawky.

“Yes, it is very difficult. I haven’t had sex in over two years! I’m very sexually frustrated.”

What the…?! Damn this trusting face! “Uhmm, that is unfortunate,” I mumbled, taking ever larger swigs of my beer.  I wish there was more foam for me to look at.  I should comment on the lack of foam in my beer.

“We used to have a very active sexual lifestyle.  We were swingers, you see, we’d attend orgies, and have a great time smoking weed and doing cocaine.  It was hot and intense.”

An image of Professor Wierdo’s lanky skinny body – covered in liver spots, and writhing among naked limbs – became seared into my mind.

Where’s he going with this?!  Sandra, you are in uncharted waters. Whatever you do, don’t let your face collapse to show panic, cuz you’re panicking right now.  DON’T PANIC.  Relax your face…that’s right, try to look serene like you hear this kind of shit all the time…relax the corners of your mouth and nod in agreement.  I nodded slowly, my expression frozen into what I hoped was a natural looking smile but surely I looked constipated instead.  Now, focus on getting that letter and don’t fuck this up!

I racked my brain for something thoughtful to say. “It’s good that you met someone that you could experiment with,” I proclaimed, trying to place emphasis on his wife, “those relationships require trust and you managed to find that.  She must be a really wonderful and adventurous woman. Sex isn’t the most important thing anyway, love is.  The important thing is that you love her.  Nobody can replace that kind of love….that YOU have…for HER… your wife.” Taking large swigs of my beer despite the growing ball of anxiety in my stomach, I looked around at the honky-tonk décor in the The Graduate desperately trying to come up with another topic of discussion. “I love the energy in this place.  Can I get you another beer?” I offered, figuring that if he was divulging so much after one beer, then two beers wouldn’t make a difference.

“Sure,” he replied.

At the bar, I ordered another round of beers enjoying a reprieve from the awkwardness of the situation.  Ask him about internships, give him that application and tell him you have to go to a birthday party.  Breathe and look NORMAL.

I took a deep breath and returned to our table with the beers.  “Thanks again for meeting with me.  So I’ve been looking at internships and there is one in Washington that sounds really cool,” I commented instantly in an attempt to take control of the conversation.

“You don’t need to go to Washington for an internship.  You could try a summer research position at the School of Public Health.  I have some colleagues doing research in Latin America that might be interested in having another bilingual person on their team.”

The ambitious part of my brain perked up.  An internship at UC Berkley would be a big boon to my career.  “Are you serious? I would love a research position at Berkley!” I smiled from cheek-to-cheek thinking how incredible the opportunity would be.

“Send me your resume and I will pass it along,” he offered.

We talked for a bit about the rising cost of university education, and the lack of funding in public services.  Once I finished my beer, I tell him I have to get ready for a birthday party.  As we walk out into the parking lot, I took the folder with the instructions for the letter of recommendation out of my bag.

“I live two blocks this way, but I will walk you to your car,” I said, buying myself time to broach the subject of the letter.  “Thanks again for meeting with me these last few months.  It’s been great to have the advice of someone such as yourself.  Your offer to pass my resume to your colleagues means the world to me.  I would do anything. Seriously, what a great opportunity.”

“Anything?” He asked.

“Yes! I mean, it’s Berkley!” I gushed.

“Would you give me a BLOWJOB?!”  He blurted out loudly, placing special emphasis on the word “blowjob” as if it was a 10 foot neon sign on the interstate.

I kid you not, this is how the fucking conversation went down and I will never forget that plain sentence, unadorned by adverbs or adjectives, and the instant mortification I felt afterwards.  How the hell did we go from talking about internships to me sucking his cock? You want an internship? Sure, I’d do anything! Surely you’ll suck my cock then.  My heart insisted I run away, but my brain was too wired by rules of etiquette to allow a mad dash to the opposite end of the earth where I wanted to dig a hole and hide.  What do I say?  Look NORMAL!!  SPEAK SLOWLY!!!

“Hmmm, no.  I’m sorry.  I have a boyfriend and I love him very much,” I explained, slowly and deliberately, as if THAT was the reason I was not accepting his invitation.  I focused on taking steady breaths while reminding myself that everything I said could put me and my future in some kind of jeopardy.

“Why would you say you are going to do ANYTHING?” He bellowed in exasperation, throwing his hands in the air.  “Don’t say you are willing to do ANYTHING if you aren’t willing to give a blowjob.  That’s misleading!” He berated me as he ran his fingers through his thinning scalp; his eyes darted wildly around in a look of sheer panic.  He’s losing it.

“I’m sorry for misleading you.  It wasn’t my intention,” I offered him a sincere looking smile while sounding apologetic but confident.  I was not sucking this guy’s penis by ANY means.  “I meant to say, I would do ANYTHING as far as research that your colleagues needed from me.  I was talking within the context of the conversation which was in regards to school and research and not sex.  I’m sorry if I gave you that impression.”

“Yeah! Well you shouldn’t say that,” he grumbled sounding peeved, yet the tinge of worry that crept into his tone meant that I had gained some foothold to manipulate the situation to my advantage. That letter was as good as mine.

“I understand,” I soothingly replied as if to a child, “again, I am sorry for being so general, it really wasn’t my intention to mislead you.  I really respect you as an intellectual and a teacher,” I complimented him, hoping that appealing to his ego would somehow diffuse his agitation. “It’s an honest misunderstanding.”

What I uttered next made me cringe as the words slipped out of my mouth.

“Maybe if I was single…” I somehow managed not to puke in my mouth.  NOPE.  Not even if he was the last guy on earth.  If he was the last guy on earth, I would find him, hunt him down with a club, and maybe make a lampshade out of him.  Mankind wasn’t worth saving if it meant repopulating the earth with this guy’s genes.  Sorry mankind! You had your run, it’s time for the cockroaches to take over.  “Anyway, I need to head back home because I have a birthday party to attend,” I reminded him, “I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to advise me.  Now that I have some schools picked out, could I rely on you for a letter of recommendation?  It would mean the world to me,” I said, making my eyes as wide as possible to emphasize my innocence as I hand him the folder requesting the letter of recommendation.

“Yeah.  Sure,” he grunted, and grudgingly took the folder from my hand.

“That is very magnanimous of you Prof. Wierdo.  You’re awesome!” I managed a big pseudo smile. “The deadline is at the end of the month. If you can’t make the deadline, just let me know and I will make other arrangements.  Thank you for your time!” With that, I started to walk away.

“Ok. Are you coming to office hours next week?” He practically shouts after me.

“No, not next week, I’ll be headed home, but the week after” I respond, hoping I sounded casual.  “I’ll see you in two weeks,” I said, waving as I scurry away, “thanks again!”

Prof. Wierdo did keep up his end of the bargain and wrote my letter in a timely manner. When I got into UCLA, I asked one of the advisers to tell me what about my applications stood out, and she commented “You had great grades, and a strong statement letter, as well as heartfelt letters of recommendations from your professors.  The one by your economics professor was particularly strong.” You’re kidding me?!  I didn’t press on what that meant.  I was just happy to have gotten my way. I tell you this much though, I’m very careful to clarify that when I use the word ANYTHING in a conversation, sexual favors are excluded, everything else is negotiable.


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