On the first day of the 2012 spring semester I made my way to Dr. M’s office. I had taken her English comp class but was now signed up for a British literature course. She had really broken through to me academically during the previous semester and I was excited to see her. But she kind of scared me at the same time. If you knew her you would understand — she is intense. She can be intimidating and that is actually a good quality in her, I think. Regardless of intimidation, I was excited to see her again. When I knocked on her door she opened it with her usual defensive “What?” face she wears when she is stressed; however, once she realized it was me her change in mood was physically noticeable. What she did next floored me. She hugged me, like really hugged me. Then after catching up a bit she hugged me again before I left. While she has hugged me many times since, it is this instance that sticks out to me. By hugging me that first day of spring semester she set the stage for the rest of the term. I felt supported by Dr. M from that moment on and I also felt she was no longer a stigmatized professor but a human being, just like me. It didn’t mean that I didn’t respect her as a professor, but simply that I was allowed to see her as more than the person grading my papers.
Hugging is a powerful thing. I am sure many (if not all) of you know this. Through physical touch premature babies thrive and the nerves of nearly any person can be calmed. I am not going to get scientific in this post simply because that is not my intention. My intention is a call to professors to give free hugs if the occasion calls for it. It can be observed in settings from preschool through twelfth grade that hugs just aren’t as present as they used to be. Due to cases of molestation and abuse within the classroom, something as simple as a hug has been discouraged. I think this is sad. Why? Because most hugs are not driven by a selfish desire to touch someone, but a human desire to connect and comfort someone. While browsing articles on hugging I came upon many opinions and facts about hugging in the academic world. Some believe that hugging can be healing, more useful than words for some. Yet others pointed out the importance of boundaries and I agree. It is at the professors discretion to decide what is appropriate and with whom. I think, if given the opportunity to hug a student in a safe, non-sexual way, the hug should be freely given, like my hug from Dr. M. While I had spent the first semester on egg shells in her class, I was now free to just be a diligent student under the direction of a caring, educated professor. That changed the dynamic. That healed me of any previous misconceptions about student-teacher relationships.
Another opinion I found on various sites and articles was that hugging is very common on a community college campus where students have more of a nurtured experienced compared to those attending a 4 year. As a transfer student I can tell you that the only people I have hugged in my first year at my university are students, not professors. I hope this changes but I don’t know if it will. I feel that even though I am finished at my CC I am still welcome and that those professors genuinely care and I guess that is good enough for me!
So why am I posting this? Well, I want to encourage professors and students to hug when it is appropriate and safe to do so.
Professors: your students, your mom students too, need a hug now and then. You have the power to reach out and make a difference in the whole person in front of you — embrace that. We live in a world where we have become increasingly distant from our neighbor which leads me to believe that a hug is even more valuable than it was 5, 10, 20 years ago. Some students need constructive criticism, but there are others still who just need a friendly hug. I’m not saying you need to be BFF’s with your students, they are still your students after all, but a hug now and then might make a big difference for some students.
Students: If your professor hugs you it does not mean that he or she is being suggestive, but human. Hug your professors when they are willing and allow yourself to see them as more than a paper-grader…as a human being who is striving to better the lives of the students they serve. If you get a hug from your professor, be thankful but don’t read into it — don’t make it more or less than it is. A hug is not a one-way action but benefits both of you. Allow yourself to be hugged when you need it, that need is purely human.
I am sure this post won’t please everyone and that is OK, you can’t win them all! But that doesn’t mean that the topic isn’t relevant or important. Our society has become cut off and likely because of our modern technology. Human connection has become lost in a virtual response to a message on a social media site and I think that is changing the way we perceive hugs, receiving hugs, and the people who give them. This post obviously isn’t directed only to moms in college, but all students and all professors. Yes, you must use proper judgement when it comes to giving a hug to a student or professor, but don’t deprive each other of that human connection when it is appropriate. Don’t pass up the opportunity to be human with a fellow human being.