Diarrhea and Boundaries

So, picture this.

You are a returning college student, non-traditional because you are older than 20, and this is your first semester back. You are late to class on the day of your first test in a few years. It’s a PE class so really it’s a joke. Why is exercise good? Name three positive healthy habits. True or False: Binge drinking is good for you.

You are slightly late but not obnoxiously late. Not unreasonably late. Just late enough to walk a bit faster and mutter under your breath. So, you reach the classroom, walking a bit faster and muttering under your breath and you find that everyone is seated and the materials have been distributed. No sweat.

You take a seat in the back of the room and start digging around the mess you call a backpack for a pen, get organized. As you are contemplating whether black ink or blue would be most suitable to the task your professor, we’ll call her Dr. Gray, walks up to you and leans in to whisper. You think you are in trouble because here you are, a non-traditional college student, walking a bit faster and muttering under your breath late to your first exam in years.

But no. Instead, Dr. Gray asks you to come sit up front. You think, wow, I remember seeing that sitting at the front of the room with the dunce cap was no longer a pedagogically acceptable strategy. But instead of a dunce cap you are faced with a revelation you never really wanted. You are drawn into the worst kind of intimacy with Dr. Gray, a woman whose first name you don’t even know. She tells you in a whisper that she has diarrhea and that she wants you to sit up front and complete your test there while you watch the group, because she might have to go to the bathroom. You try to keep the look of disbelief off your face as you sit and complete your test. You are done early. You ask, should I stay or should I go now…

and are told you’d better stay cause she’s not sure she’ll make it. She does the clenched butt, speedwalking diarrhea treck several times as you sit there wondering why. Your classmates sit there wondering why.

Fortunately this did not happen to me. If it had, my social graces would have possibly gone to shit (so to speak). I don’t do well with strangers’ discussions of bodily functions and I tend to be crass. When this story was told to me, a group of teachers were sitting around and we were puzzled at Dr. Gray’s choice. So, we took an informal poll of people and asked, what would YOU do if you had to give a test but had a bad case of diarrhea.

Some people said they would call a colleague and ask them to proctor for them and would stay at home on a friendly toilet.
Others said they would step out if needed, and might even ask a student to sit up front (although that is a debatable point because it is simultaneously privileging and alienating one student and it is saying that you don’t trust their academic integrity, which you might not, but you don’t usually want to make it that obvious!). No one though, would disclose to a student they barely know that they have the shits. Others still would cancel the quiz and call in sick. Some would send a friend out for imodium. Or call their department and find someone to cover. Not a single person thought of just announcing their bowel problems.

Now, before I get accused of being prudish, I am not. I have worked with children and with disabled adults. I have wiped asses small and large. No issue with that. I am nowhere near squeamish about body issues. I am squeamish about boundaries though. I am in no way a traditional teacher who requires students call her Professor or Ms. or any other title (I love it when people like to be called by titles they don’t possess but that’s a story for another blog). Ironically Dr. Gray is traditional. I’m not formal, I’m not authoritarian and I’m pretty laid back in my relationship with students. But. It seems to me there are places one need not go. Diarrhea is one of them.

The next question is, if you were in the student’s position, what would you do?? Is there any way to refuse?
I think maybe I’d cover my face with my shirt and scream
“SHIT GERMS!!!!!! GERMS! GERMS!” and run out of the classroom. Hmmmmm… or maybe I’d just sit up there with a wtf expression on my face.



  1. h. ríos Said:

    ahhhhhhhhhhhhh. Now that certainly qualifies as psychological torture….

  2. Alejandro Said:

    LOL 😆 good one!

  3. TheaLeticia Said:

    How about giving the whole first row of students warning if she has gas? 😛

    Torture is right!

  4. Jeffrey Willis Said:

    I so do not belong in academia… I would turn, smile and say sure… move up front, and then as she shuffled off to the bathroom I’d say, “Don’t worry, I had the runs the other day too, it was a bit explosive and not all that fun, but it really cleansed my system out, you’ll feel much better tomorrow. ”

    *sigh* this is why I didn’t last more than a month or two in the army 😉

  5. thealeticia Said:

    LOL! I bet you wouldn’t say it quietly either Jeff! Maybe bring her a hemmorrhoid cushion next class as a gift.

  6. Jeffrey Willis Said:

    Quietly? not bloody likely 🙂

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