Being Dressed Down over Dress Codes: Teaching at a For-Profit College
Oct 26th, 2016 by Dr Karma

I’m fairly sure neither the students nor I wanted to be in our class.

About 15 years ago, I worked at a for-profit technical college, the type so often in the news today.

I had lived in California for about nine months—I had moved out to go to grad school at The University of California, Davis. In return for my teaching, they paid my tuition and gave a small nine month stipend. It was not quite enough to live on, especially as I was a single mother.

“How do people support themselves over the summer?” I asked my grad advisor—it’s not like the rent could go unpaid.

“Hmmm. I actually don’t know that. . . . I think most of them have spouses.”


And so I started teaching summer classes at MTI in Sacramento.

The students were varied—ranging from their early twenties to their fifties. Most were parents. Almost all worked full-time jobs. We would meet three hours a week for an evening. The women primarily wanted to be paralegals and understood the value of the writing class I taught. The men primarily wanted to get a promotion or a move into another business or tech field—they saw the class as another hurdle—a barrier—to what they wanted to do.

When I tried to talk to one man about how to improve his writing, he simply said, “Just give me a C.”

Still, the majority of the students and I got along. Maybe since I had technically been a returning student and was also working my way through higher ed, we understood each other.

The “college” and I are a different story. Perhaps the best way to explain is to talk about appearance.

I had to go out and buy a couple of suits to work there. I managed at UCD with only one—my conference suit—because we didn’t have a “dress code” like MTI did.

We were modeling being professional, we were told.

The students also had to abide by rules, including one that to even be a student, one couldn’t have visible tattoos, as my students informed me.

It’s harder for people with tattoos to get jobs. MTI’s only real marketing point was their alumni job rate (we know that most schools count an alumni having a job if they’re employed at all—even if they have the same job they had before attending). Thus, students who might be hard to place just didn’t get in.


The strangest enforcement of dress codes, though, came when I had emergency surgery.

Part of the reason I came to UC Davis was because they offered healthcare to their graduate students. With pre-existing conditions, I couldn’t get healthcare on my own, not even when I worked for Florida State University prior to moving.

I’d been struggling with immense back pain. After almost a year of trying to figure out what was wrong, I got an MRI, showing a massive sacral disc herniation. (I was 25.)

I should have been in recovery for six weeks, but that’s not how bills get paid, so I was back at work in six days.

The night I came back, the air conditioner wasn’t really working; it was over 100. Halfway through our three hours, I asked the students if they would mind if I slipped off my heels—I wasn’t supposed to wear them with a bad back anyway.

They didn’t mind.

I got an email the next day, saying that someone had looked into my classroom via the 6X2” window in the door.

It said that if I couldn’t dress appropriately for work, I shouldn’t come to work.

Now, this was a “college” that robo called all of us on 9/11/2001 to say that we HAD to have classes as usual—that there would be consequences for deciding not to teach or be taught.

I got on the phone with my supervisor, explaining the situation. She held her ground. It would have been better, yes, to cancel class than to teach barefoot or in sandals.

She suggested that if I couldn’t keep my shoes off, perhaps I should sit behind the desk.

“For three hours?”

“Yes,” she replied, even after I explained to her that trying to keep people’s attention in a hot summer room for three hours is hard enough without losing the energy one gains by standing and walking and using the board.

It would have been disrespectful to my students, I thought, to bore them that way.

My students were horrified when I told them the story in the next session.

My wannabe paralegals wanted to sue, as I was clearly, if temporarily, disabled. I told them it would be more fun to sue on ethnic discrimination. I was raised white trash in the South and thus shouldn’t be expected to wear shoes at all.

Of course, we didn’t sue. We did gripe and let off steam, though.

Why should I be treated differently—and why should they—when my writing class at MTI is supposed to be the same as my writing class at UCD?

I had already published at conferences and had few years of teaching behind me at that point.

I knew how to do my job—with or without shoes.

But that wasn’t the point. MTI didn’t really care about what was happening in the classroom—they only cared what it looked like.

And so we had to cover our tattoos and and put on our suits to dress up MTI.

On the other hand (backhanded, that is)
Oct 15th, 2016 by Dr Karma

This week, one of my doctors and I had to take a moment to just look at each other.
I was in acute pain. He knew how to make it stop. He couldn’t, unless I wanted to cover the entire cost myself.
“I can’t give you the treatment because insurance wouldn’t authorize it this fast. I can’t give you a shot of pain killer to tide you over–I’m your specialist. Your primary can do that, but I can’t.”
We talked about ERs and cabbages and kings.
I have a lot of complaints about my body–I have chronic issues, including chronic pain.
I have a lot of complaints about insurance and the American model of medicine–I’ve written about some of them here–not all of it. In 2017, I should run a ledger: how many hours do I spend on the phone with my insurance company? How many times are my bills wrong? How many times is my medical care (a prescription, a treatment) denied?
It was an expensive week (next week will be too). In addition to my insurance premiums and my meds (so many meds), I paid $200ish in doctor/procedure fees that weren’t about my acute problem. The acute problem added in another $200ish.
On the other hand, I am thankful I have insurance.
On the other hand, I am so thankful for my team.
With few exceptions, my health care team is incredible, and not just because they’re willing to fight for me.
Let’s look at this week.
First, my chiropractor and my massage therapist have worked very hard. On Monday, I couldn’t walk. I managed to get to classes the rest of the week due to people being willing to fight with my muscles and my misalignments.
On Thursday, my PTSD therapist (who works in the pain clinic) got on the phone with my pain doctor during our appointment to explain that my back had gone from chronic to acute and that I needed intervention asap.
Usually, it’s at least a month to get on the calendar. My pain doc is going to try a fun new intervention Wednesday morning.
That same day, my neurologist and I had the conversation discussed above. He has me on his schedule for Monday, as an intentional overboook, in case I couldn’t get in to see a primary yesterday. He called in a prescription for a patch to apply to my back (I haven’t been able to use it–insurance is being difficult).
Yesterday, I was able to get a same day appt with my primary care physician’s colleague. It was his last of the day–4:45. Still, he was thorough and kind. He listened. When I suggested a tweak on what he wanted to do–one kind of shot instead of another–we talked it through.
His PA came in to give me my shot, but so did the building’s shot nurse–a year before, when my back was acting up like this, we had an issue with this shot (for your sake, I’m being vague here). She wanted to check on me, to make sure I was as okay as possible, to make sure this shot went well.
In other words, the people who take care of me are awesome.
Insurance, I have an amazing group of people trying to tackle amazingly difficult problems. Please let them.

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