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Wednesday, December 17, 2008Be Strong
I arrived with only minutes to spare to go over her defense. Still I was confident, we’d been going over the case for weeks and we’d gone over the argument the previous evening. I glanced into the waiting area and noticed that with the exception of Psycho Chick’s mother and social worker friend the room was conspicuously empty of her supporters. The ones that had promised to be there. I looked up at the clock. Guess we’re on our own. They should’ve all been here by now.
I took a deep breath and guided Psycho Chick into the hearing room. “Remember don’t bring up your anxiety disorder. That’s not relevant to these charges, besides your seeing a therapist and taking medication.” I stage whispered as we made our way to our seats. She smiled at me and nodded. “You sound just like a lawyer.” “ I was a law major once.” I replied
She did it,Psycho Chick finally managed to piss off the ruling powers at the school yet again. Last semester they’d politely requested that she leave the program a request that she declined. This semester there was no such request. Instead she was informed that she was being brought up on charges of unethical behavior and a hearing was being held to decide her fate. They wanted her gone.
My grandfather has always told me that first impressions are everything. Psycho Chick brought the truth of his statement home for me. She’d made a really crappy first impression on the professors during our first semester. Hell she’d pretty much done the same with all of the students. But I’d seen something in her, a glimmer that her tough bitch attitude was just a front. I took the time to get to know her and pulled her to the side and told her she needed to give the façade a rest. She wasn’t fooling me and she was harming herself in the long run. She took my advice but by that time it was too late, she’d been labeled.
I saw the writing on the wall when Psycho’s internship supervisor called her into her office and lectured Psycho Chick on the white privilege theory. The reason she'd brought up the theory to Psycho Chick the supervisor explained was that Psycho Chick’s reputation had preceded her. The supervisor felt that Psycho Chick’s anger was rooted in this theory. Without knowing anything about Psycho Chick’s background the white supervisor lectured psycho on how she could to a level empathize with Psycho Chick on how hard it was to grow up poor and to come from an uneducated family.The supervisor claimed that as a person with a great amount of empathy for the underpriviledged she could imagine Psycho’s anger. Funny how the supervisor’s empathy neglected to warn her that she was being offensive.
Psycho Chick called me crying afterwards, “Well,what did you tell her?” I asked. “I was too shocked. I couldn’t say anything. What would you’ve done?” “I would’ve told her I was invoking spic privilege and made her swallow a couple of teeth.” I replied. “Oh my God Mia! What the hell is spic privilege anyway?” “That’s the God given right every Hispanic has to punch an idiot in the mouth when they talk shit, especially when it’s offensive shit.” I warned her to watch her back and suggested that she talk our academic advisor and give her a heads up to what was going on. Psycho Chick was afraid to make waves so she said nothing. When the supervisor set her up to take a fall no one was there to watch Psycho Chick’s back.
When the news first hit the campus several of students offered to speak on Psycho’s behalf at the hearing. When it was inferred that to do so could jeopardize our own academic careers the students rescinded their offers and instead offered to attend the hearing in a show of support. “Hey Psycho Chick, when’s the hearing again? I want to let my internship know in advance I’m not coming in.” I asked. “You’re still going to speak on my behalf?” “Yup.”
Several days later she asked if I’d serve as her student advocate at the hearing. I quickly agreed but then she seemed to have second thoughts. She’d remembered what had been hinted at about jeopardy through association. She was worried about me. “Mia, are you sure you want to do this?” she asked. I shrugged my shoulders “Fluck it. What can they do to me, kill me? Besides if I get kicked out I’ll take my credits and go play somewhere else. ”
The day had arrived. Psycho Chick and I stood in front of the four people in charge of deciding her fate. One of the professors smiled at me. I’d been one of her favorites last semester. Just last week she’d come into my class and had been singing my praises to my research professor but I knew she had no love for Psycho Chick. Every time Psycho Chick and I had partnered up in her class the professor had hovered nearby and would ask if I was okay as if she feared for my safety. The other three, among them the director of the program, looked surprised to see me there. It's a well known fact that I hate public speaking and I'm shy.
Psycho Chick took her seat behind the table and I began my defense with a statement that made them all laugh. “Psycho Chick does not necessarily make the best of impressions when you first meet her. I know this because I was put off of by her when I first met her. She comes across as tough, uncaring, arrogant, and rude.” I waited for the laugher to die down and continued, “However what people don’t realize is that the image she projects is a front. That’s not who Psycho Chick truly is, she has a hard time letting her guard down only because she doesn’t want to be perceived as weak, which all is part of her insecurities. I find it amazing that you our teachers failed to pick up on this."
The director of the program leaned forward in her chair focusing on me listening intently to what I was saying.The woman is a legend in her field, psych majors, and social work students all over the world cite her studies. Another one who happens to like me but isn't fond of Psycho Chick, she was the one who asked Psycho Chick to leave last year.
Holy Monkey, this is so bad.
She nodded and urged me to go on… “This semester has seen a change in Psycho Chick. There is a maturity and confidence that wasn’t there last year. Those of us who’ve spent time with her, her new professors and fellow students have noticed the change in her. We can attest that the change is viable…”
I continued my defense and noticed several of the professors smiling at me. Most of them had never even heard the sound of my voice for more than a minute. Hearing me talk for so long was new to them. I hoped that it would work in Psycho's favor. I finished my statement, thanked them for their time and took a seat. It was Psycho's turn to speak. They went to town on her ass and she started to cry. Every attack launched at her was personal. It had to do with their perceived failings of her as a person. No one attacked her work (clients love her) or her academics (4.0 GPA) it was all about her as a person. As I watched her struggling to keep her composure I dug my nails into the palm of my hand to keep myself from losing my temper. It was unfair; she was being attacked for things that had happened last semester.
One of the professors was confrontational, his tone belligerent... I realized what he was trying to do. I’d read the school report, their notes on how Psycho Chick couldn’t deal with confrontation. He was trying to get her to lose her cool, to prove his point about her. “Sir, sir, may I please speak?” I tried to defuse the situation. The director granted me permission to speak. “The time to deal with what happened last semester was last semester. In fact the time for this hearing was last semester not now, not when she’s a semester away from graduating.” I said over Psycho Chick’s sobbing. The belligerent professor attempted to intimidate me. He raised his voice at me. I stared him down and continued, “You will let me speak sir! You will give me the same respect me I have shown you and you will allow me to do what I came here for. You’re all ganging up on her. You’re taking this to a personal level!”
I wasthisclose to reenacting Al Pacino’s famous “You’re out of order” scene from And Justice For All.
The professor sat back in his chair and gestured for me to speak with his hand.
oh man you are so lucky I don’t flash one of my own hand gestures.
“As social work students we’re been taught to check our biases at the door, to tune into our clients. I find it hypocritical that this school does not practice what it preaches. Which one of you has thought to tune into Psycho Chick? Which one of you has thought to show her compassion? People deserve second chances, even third chances. People are capable of change, she has changed and she deserves a chance to show it. Nothing is written in stone, we are well aware of your decision in regards to her. I ask that you show her a measure of the compassion you demand we reserve for our patients. Give her another chance let her start over with a clean slate. She’s found her own placement without any help from you. They are fully aware of her past history and issues and still want her. If they can extend their hand and let her start over why can’t you?”
At first I thought it was just me but afterwards I found out from those present that they’d felt it too. There was a sense of optimism in the room. Psycho Chick stood up, she was calm now and ready to speak. I gave her the floor and then all hell broke loose. She began to speak about her anxiety disorder and the mood in the room shifted again. She’d given her detractors the ammunition they’d needed.
I froze in my spot even though I wanted to across the room and clamp my hand over Psycho Chick’s mouth. I attempted to will Psycho Chick to look my way but I guess that stuff only works in movies and paranormal fiction. No matter how hard I tried she didn’t look my way.
shut up shut up! Let them walk to the store to buy the rope to hang you with don’t freaking just hand it to them!
I looked over towards Psycho Chick’s social worker friend, she shook her head at me. Obviously she felt the same way I did. We stared at each other. I could tell we both felt it at the same time. Optimism had snuck out of the room during Psycho Chick’s speech.
Her revelation about her anxiety disorder had been the nail in the coffin. She was given a choice, switch her major and some of her credits would transfer or take a semester off to work on herself and prove to them she had changed and maybe they’d let her back into the program. Either way it was the end. No school would allow her into their social work program now with her record and everyone there knew they had no intention of taking her back. How do you prove you’ve changed unless you’re giving a chance to prove it in the first place?
After the decision was read Psycho Chick collapsed in her chair. They’d succeeded, they’d broken her. Her sobs filled the room. The panel paused as they gathered their things to leave and stared at her. I couldn’t look at them instead I put my arms around her and pulled her up to her feet. As I lead her to the door I whispered in her ear. “Don’t you dare give them the satisfaction of seeing you break down. Hold your head up. Be strong.” I think in part I was saying it for myself as well.
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