He was one of five professors in the tiny Spanish department at Iowa State. I had him for both semesters of Spanish Two, and I’d just landed a summer job, selling books door to door in a mystery state after a week’s training in Nashville. The bus for me and the other recruits was leaving the day of my test.
I asked my professor if I could take my final exam early. He said to come to his office at 7:00 the Wednesday night before. It was a warm night in May. I had on shorts and a t-shirt.
I sat at a student desk as he sat at his professor desk. When I was finished, he took the test, then put on a record from his homeland and asked me to listen to it.
“I need to get going,” I said. “I need to pack.”
“Just one more song,” he said.
Well, he did let me take the test early, so okay.
The next song was a cha cha.
“Come dance with me,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” I said.
But he was grabbing my hands and pulling me up out of the desk. I was taller than he was because of my giraffe legs.
This is creepy, He’s my professor. I need to go.
“Isn’t this nice?” he said pulling my body to his. “This is how Cubans dance the cha cha cha.”
He was turned on — of that I had hard evidence.
I am alone in a building on campus at night with a pervy professor. How am I going to get out of this?
“You’re so sexy,” he whispered in my ear as he started kissing my nineteen-year-old neck.
I pushed him away as he ran his hands up my back.
“I have to go!”
I grabbed my things and ran out the door. I ran out of the building, I ran halfway back to my dorm, looking over my shoulder to make sure he wasn’t there.
Ten days later, my book-selling team got sent to California. I ended up renting a room from a little old lady on Dutra Way in Fremont. My mom forwarded my grades to me a few weeks later. I held my breath as I opened them. The Spanish 2 grade was not my normal A, the price I paid for not finishing the dance, not finishing the whatever. Retribution from the king of sleaze.
When summer was over, I got back to Iowa State and signed up for Spanish 3. The only professor teaching it was the creep. It was a tiny language department, with no one else to choose.
How badly did I want a dual degree? Should I drop out of Spanish and just get the single degree in Elementary Ed? Or should I take Señor Pervo’s class?
I decided to take the class, but I didn’t look the slime bag in the eye for two whole semesters. We both knew what had happened. We both knew he’d knocked down my grade. He had all the power. I decided to do just enough to pass his course to earn my degree. I attended on Mondays and Wednesdays but didn’t show up most Fridays for his 3:00 class.
I got my first college C. I also got a C later in the year in physics when I pulled my first all-nighter to study and then slept through the final. But by then, C’s had already happened.
I learned a lot my junior year.
1. It’s okay not to earn a perfect grade point.
2. It’s okay to skip class, especially if your prof has sexually assaulted you.
3. It’s common to do nothing, to wait for the movement that will slow down but not stop sexual harassment. It hadn’t even been labeled yet in the 70’s.
4. It’s not okay to be silent, but if there is nothing in place, no one to report to, no office to complain to, no support groups, no idea that you are not alone, it’s very hard to know what to do.
Couldda Wouldda Shouldda
If I would’ve taken a stand against Señor Grapera, who knows what might have happened? It was easier to pretend it hadn’t happened than to make a stink. How would I know that it was happening to lots of coeds?
If I would’ve dropped Spanish because of El Macho Pervertido, it would have changed the course of my life. I would not have gone to South America to student teach, I would not have taught ten years of Spanish, and I would probably not be living in California writing pictures in English and Spanish for kids.
I wasn’t the only one. If only I had known . . .