Dear Amy: I teach an adult education class in a very culturally, racially and ethnically diverse community.
One of my (foreign-born) students has recently brought to my attention some very negative and hurtful comments she has received from another of my students.
She says this other student has said to her, “Why are you here?” “Aren’t you lucky we are so accepting of you?” and other comments like this.
What can I do? Should I speak to the perpetrator privately? Should I address the whole class?
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What can I say or do? What can she say?
Dear Horrified: You should speak to the person your student alleges said these things to her. These are questions/statements that might seem benign – or aggressive – depending on the tone of voice and body language, as well as the native language and interpretation of both parties.
Ask this student why they felt the need to single out a fellow student. Listen to whatever explanation they have, and then emphasize how important it is that every student respects one another. Tell the perpetrator that the other student felt embarrassed and offended, and that she is owed an apology. Tell the student that in your class, you expect everyone to speak to one another respectfully.
It is best for you to handle this privately. If the greater lesson is about shaming, then you should not publicly call out the perpetrator. This is a teachable moment.
I’d also suggest that you introduce your class to immigrant narratives (if you haven’t already); and have them write and share their own personal narrative stories. The more they know each other, and know about each other, the more connected they will feel. Empathy, respect and understanding should grow from there.
If the student refuses to adjust their behavior, you should seek counsel from an administrator regarding next steps.
Dear Amy: My husband of almost 27 years survived quintuple bypass surgery last year, and was able to return to work three months later.
His doctors insisted that he give up a lifelong habit of using smokeless tobacco. With my help, he managed to quit. He still misses this habit and said he would do it if it weren’t for my insistence that he stay off it.
To replace the tobacco, he has begun drinking. The doctors say he can drink in moderation – at most, two beers per day. At first, this was all he drank, but now, especially on the weekends, he drinks in excess of nine or 10 beers at a time.
I know this is not good for him and could, in fact, be deadly, but if I mention it I am nagging. He says things like, “I need one little vice” or “one little pleasure.”
This makes me feel very scared, and sad, to think that all the enjoyment he gets out of life now is to drink.
He’s alive. He has a job that he loves and a wonderful family. I cannot discuss this with our children or his mother because it would only hurt them. They do not know about his excessive drinking.
I can’t deal with it any longer. What should I do? I believe his drinking is going to put him in the grave.
Dear Worried: Al-anon meetings could be very helpful for you. There, you could unleash this secret you’re holding by talking with other people whose lives are also affected by a loved one’s drinking.
I’m not sure why you are keeping this secret so close. All of your worrying (and nagging) is not prompting your husband to change, but your anxiety, and the secrecy surrounding it, has become a burden which could affect your own health.
Your husband has emerged from a near-death experience clinging to a vice versus clinging to life. This might be a reflection of his own (secret) anxieties and terror.
You both assigned you the responsibility for getting him to quit smokeless tobacco. You cannot be responsible for his drinking. When you finally accept this powerlessness, you will be liberated.
Dear Amy: Responding to the letter from “Insomniac,” who wondered if it would be OK to sleep in separate beds from her snoring husband, I’d like to say that my husband and I started sleeping apart two years ago.
In 24 years of marriage, it was the best decision we’ve ever made. We sleep better at night, and get along better during the day.
Dear Rested: I’ve had a huge (mainly positive) response to the idea of sleeping separately.
Email Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.