E. R. Braithwaite
She was standing in the corridor as I
approached my office that morning, casually elegant in a snugly fitted
denim ensemble, shiny high heels and an intricately arranged coiffure.
When our glances met, she attempted a smile which narrowly restricted
itself to the corners of her mouth.
“Morning, Professor,” she greeted me.
“Good morning. Are you here to see
“Yes. If you could spare me a few
I opened the door and invited her to be seated. As she settled herself I
hung up my coat and adjusted the window shades to allow the winter
sunlight full access to every part of the room. I took a seat opposite
her, noticing how rigidly upright she held herself on the front edge of
the chair, a small bundle of keys held tightly in the silver-ringed
fingers of both hands.
“How may I help you, Miss…”
“Gadson. Melissa Gadson.” She quickly
supplied “I was in your Writing Workshop last semester. I’m here to ask
about my grade.”
“The grades are all posted on the
Internet,” I said “and additionally they are on the notice board in the
“Yes, I know,” she said. I waited,
but her attention seemed occupied with the bundle of keys, which emitted
a soft tinkle as she teased them. I excused myself and went into the
corridor to consult the grade sheet. There it was. Melissa Gadson-C. I
re-entered the room and resumed my seat.
“Your work earned a C,” I told her.
“It’s about my scholarship,” she
blurted out. “I can’t have a C. I’d lose my scholarship.”
“I’m sorry to hear that , but there’s
nothing I can do about it now,” I said. “I gave you the grade which
your work dictated and deserved.”
“You could change it. I can’t lose my
scholarship. You can change the grade,” surprising me with her sudden
assertiveness. “You could give me a B so I can keep my scholarship.”
“I don’t think so, Miss Gadson. As a
matter of fact, I think I was quite generous when I gave your work a C.
Do you have some of your work here? I’d like you to see why your work
deserved nothing better.”
“No, I didn’t, like, think to bring
“Well, bring it with you later today
and we can discuss it together.”
“But, would you change the grade?”
“But, what’s the big difference between giving me a C or a B?”
“The difference is in the quality of
the work you presented during the entire semester. On the very first day
of class, I told all the students that I was easily available to help
them in any way I could. I mentioned the times of my availability and
made it clear that no special appointment was necessary. Not once during
the entire semester did you come to see me.”
“But…” she attempted to interrupt.
“Hear me out, please,” I insisted.
“You may have noticed that on each corrected assignment returned to you
there were notations, errors and suggestions underlined in red. The idea
was to get your attention, for your work’s sake. Not once did you come
to discuss anything with me, and you continued to make the same
mistakes, showing no improvement in the style or structure of your
“I couldn’t come to see you,” she
said. “I have a job off campus and I have to be there at the same time
you’re in your office.”
“How long have you had the job?”
“So you knew that taking the class
might create some difficulty for you so far as managing your time was
“Yes, but I, like figured the class
wouldn’t be too difficult. I mean, I’ve always liked to write and I
didn’t think the workshop would be a big deal. I always did well in my
“Unfortunately, you did very poorly
in the workshop.”
“It couldn’t have been so bad. My
friends all liked the things I did. I’d show it to them and they’d say
it was good. You’re the only one who didn’t seem to think so. Anyway, I
need you to give me an upgrade.”
“Miss Gadson, when you checked your
grade on the notice board were you aware that there were several other
students with the same grade?”
“If I upgrade you should I not be
obliged to do the same for them?”
“I don’t see why. They’re not here
asking for the change.”
“That’s true, but the unspoken
understanding I s that I treat all students fairly, equally, without
favour or bias of any kind. If I make a change in your grade I would
have to make a similar change in theirs.”
“Why? Who would know?” she asked. “It
would be between you and me.”
“No. It would be between you and me
and every other member of the class when they became aware of this visit
as they very probably will.”
“God, it’s so unfair,” she cried.
“Couldn’t you do me this one favour, please?”
“Miss Gadson, if I did it would
compromise those very ethics we discussed in class. May I say this? You
are a healthy, attractive, intelligent Black woman. You really do not
need to be asking favours of me or any one else. The fact that you are a
full-time student holding down a job tells me that you are strong and
independent. Don’t compromise that independence now. The work assigned
to you in the workshop was quite comfortably within the compass of your
abilities had you bothered to try. Perhaps a little better management of
your time is all you need.”
She turned her face towards the
window, nibbling at her lower lip as if considering the things I had
just said, then, again looking at me.
“So you won’t give me an upgrade?”
“I won’t do it,” I replied.
With a graceful motion she stood and walked from the room.