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Student Evaluations, Emma Stone, and Me

August 26, 2017

I've been teaching writing for almost a decade now. By my best estimate, I've taught 25 different courses on writing. I've taught thousands of students ranging from first-years to graduate students, students attending college in their hometowns to international students from faraway places like Qatar, Kazakstan, and Nepal, engineering majors to budding artists. I've taught at four very different higher educations institutions. I've taught on both coasts of the United States. 


There has, throughout it all, been plenty of ups and downs. The students from some of those classes have become like dear old friends (I'm looking at you Fall 2010 WR 101 at Emerson) and some I just want to forget (English 3302 at Northeastern in the basement of that dorm building). I've made plenty of mistakes as an instructor (ugh, that lecture on thesis statements I used to give) and there have been many moments I've been proud of (those student-led workshops in Writing for the Disciplines). 


Despite all that variability, all that change, one thing in those 10 years has remained stunningly consistent. Every semester that I've taught, a student—usually a young woman, usually on the last day of class, shyly, as she's already halfway out the door—will tell me I look like Emma Stone. 


On one level, I get it. We both tend towards ginger-gened features. We have similar brows, cheeks, and eye color. We tend towards similar hair styles and lipstick hues. Like Emma, when I speak, I have a tendency towards vocal fry (which, it seems either makes me seem incompetent or is my goddamn right to speak as I wish). From what I can tell from interviews, Emma also speaks animatedly, often waving her hands for emphasis. 


But this is weird, right? When it first started happening, I admit, I was flattered. I've always been a fan of Ms. Stone's work, from her beginnings in Superbad and Easy A to her more recent turns in dramas like Birdman and La La Land. She seems like a charming, talented, funny young woman. Perhaps I've followed her career more carefully than I've followed other entertainers. I feel this kinship with her now, like we've gone through life together. Semester after semester, Emma's been there with me.


After a while, I thought the consistency with which students remarked on the resemblance surely pointed to a conspiracy. There must be a post on College Confidential or Yik Yak or something where they've all agreed to make sure to tell me and watch my reaction, I thought. When I left the Boston-area for California, I thought surely it would stop. But, lo and behold, by the end of my first term there it was again, "Has anyone ever told you that you look like Emma Stone?" 


But, alas, last Spring a student put it in writing. Now, the resemblance is recorded in my teaching evaluations, which, of course, will become a part of my personnel file. It's official: looking like Emma Stone is forever a part of my professional record. 


This is not a problem my male colleagues seem to have, or, at least, it is not one they talk about. We already know that teaching evaluations are subject to a tremendous amount of gender bias. And yes, that is a problem. I'd like to have students comment on my brilliance or on my ability to communicate my subject matter. But what I'm more interested in is what my looking or not looking like Emma Stone means to them. Are they devaluing me somehow? Trying to point out a lack of seriousness? Or is there a comfort, in the Kardashian age, of seeing someone familiar in the classroom? 





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