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My Open Letter to UNM Professor and NYU Lecturer Dr. Geoffrey Miller

Posted on: June 6, 2013

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The only thing that grinds my gears more than my PhD rejection from NYU is when people who actually HAVE PhDs use them for evil, instead of good. Being a professor gives you clout, and that clout gives you a voice, a voice students just might listen to. So with that voice, UNM Professor Geoffrey Miller decided to take to Twitter (where all the brainiacs go) and voice his opinion on why apparently obese people shouldn’t bother to apply for their PhDs, because heck, if you can’t put the fork down, how will you ever be able to write a dissertation? You can view his tweet in the photo above. The tweet has since been deleted and an apology of sorts put in its place, but I am not swayed. I have written an open letter to Professor Miller (I shudder to call him “dr”) and posted it here, as well as on my Facebook page. I’ve also sent him a copy of it via email. I doubt it will have any effect on his level of ignorance (or that he’ll even read it) but I want him (and everyone who thinks like him) to know that I am obese, but I’m not stupid.

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Dear Professor Miller,

I am writing you this letter because I have a few problems with a tweet you sent out recently. In this specific tweet, you said that obese PhD applicants lack the willpower to complete a dissertation because they (apparently) lack the willpower to lose weight.

Here are my problems with this assertion. First off, it implies that all obesity is caused by simple lack of willpower. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I have struggled with weight virtually since birth. Did I suffer from poor willpower when I was two? There are an infinite number of reasons, both physical and mental (and emotional) as to why an individual is obese. To lump us all in under the broad headline “lack of willpower” is to trivialize a complicated and complex problem. You’d think that someone with a PhD like yourself would know better.

Second, your tweet also puts forth the assumption that having poor willpower in one area means having poor willpower in all areas. I don’t think this is true for anyone. An individual might have poor willpower when it comes to food, but be studious and hardworking when it comes to their studies. I put myself in this latter category.

I got my BA in 2007 and my MA in 2009, both in English, both from Queens College, CUNY. I was one of the obese PhD applicants you spoke of in your tweet, as I did apply to NYU back in 2010. And while I did not apply for the program in which you currently reside, I shudder to think of what might have happened to my application if someone in the English program shared your ignorant view. I struggled throughout college, but it wasn’t because of my workload; it was because of my size. It took me longer to get to class than my fellow classmates. I couldn’t fit in the desks so a special desk and chair had to be provided for me. This desk and chair was never where it was supposed to be, so at the start of every class you’d find me roaming the halls, sweaty and out of breath, looking for a chair I could use just so that I could get my education like everyone else. Sometimes in the middle of class we’d have to take a walk to the campus library, and I’d be the only one left out, because by the time I got there everyone would be gone.

I struggled throughout high school as well; graduating at 430 pounds you can imagine my classmates did not treat me with respect. But my senior year English teacher actually called my mother to tell her that if it hadn’t been for me, he’d have quit teaching, because those ungrateful brats were leading him to an early grave. I could appreciate Shakespeare and Dickens and I could write about them too. I won first prize for a personal essay as an undergrad and I won third prize for an essay I wrote on secularism as a grad student. I also got an A+ on my Master’s thesis on melancholy poetry. Funny how I wrote all those things and got such good grades all while being obese. I guess I’m the exception to your rule.

Now you could argue that PhD programs are infinitely more difficult than grad school programs and require a higher level of willpower, and I’m sure I’d agree with you. But with overall college enrollment starting to drop, do you really want to do or say something that could potentially dissuade students from applying to get their doctorates?

I am astounded that someone with your education would be so ignorant as to say such offensive and discriminatory things. Frankly, I do not accept your apology, because despite what it says in your tweeted retraction, I do think your initial tweet reflects your views. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t have written it.

You want some #truth? If even one doctoral candidate decided not to apply because of your words, you should be fired. Because you are not only a detriment to the educational system as a whole, but you are openly contributing to a prejudice and an ignorance that can spread like wildfire. And the funny thing is that kindness, requires no willpower at all.

Sincerely,
Andrea Nostramo

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