Boston University / Highlighting Teachers / Interviews

Highlighting Teachers Around BU: Tammy Vigil

The goal of these interviews is to highlight teachers around BU who do a successful job at bringing awareness to different issues revolving around gender discrimination, stereotypes, and feminism. Different teachers will be interviewed throughout the school year – if you have a teacher who you believe does this, please send us an email about them!

Who: Dr. Tammy Vigil
Classes Taught:  COM 101 vigil_tammy

Bio: Dr. Vigil earned her Ph.D in Communication Studies from the University of Kansas in 2000, specializing in rhetorical studies, political communication and media effects. Dr. Vigil currently teaches the “The World of Communication,” an introductory course for incoming freshmen, and has taught communication theory, communication research methods, oral presentation, and contemporary mass communication at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Her own research focuses on rhetorical analysis of political communication and popular culture. Dr. Vigil is a co-author of the book The Third Agenda in U.S. Presidential Debates (2009) and is a past winner of the National Communication Association’s Wrage-Baskerville Award for her analysis of an FDR campaign speech. [X]

Transcript of Interview

Why, when you are talking in classes, are these issues of gender roles and sexism important to you to address, because it is definitely something you highlight.

Well for me it’s one of those interesting things where it always starts from the conversation we have about attitude and Burke’s terministic screens because when you talk to people about racist language right away they understand about homophobic attitudes and language, they get that right away but what people don’t seem to understand, and don’t seem to think about, is the sexist language that invades our society and it’s part of a broader societal attitude and I think it’s really important for students to think about things they aren’t thinking about. The things that are less obvious to them because those are the kind of language issues, and the kind of symbol issues that, I think, can cause more damage because there sort of subversive instead of being overt and being able to be approached.

You mentioned that you think part of it is that you are a female professor giving this speech, have you ever felt within BU and your other jobs, that you’ve faced issues because you’re a woman or has it just really been in your classes.

Oh no I have had situations where being a female has been problematic. Not problematic for me, but it has caused, well I’ve been treated differently and there have been discrepancies between male and female colleagues, and it happens here, it happens all over the place.

I used to teach at a school in upstate new york before I came to BU and I was the only female in the communication department, and I was also the youngest by about twenty years. The department of theater was doing the Vagina Monologues and we were having a department meeting and the department chair said, “hey maybe we should put on a production of the puppetry of the penis,” and he turned to me and said “you could be the prop mistress”.

Oh God.

I couldn’t not not say anything. At the same time I was brand new to the department, this is my department chair, and he thinks he’s just being funny. And the guys in the room all stop and just look at me because they’re waiting to see what I’m going to do in response. So that was really an incredibly awkward moment. And so the question becomes “how do you respond to that”. And so you can go in lots of different directions, and so at the time I decided to go for a more humorous but pointed way and I made a sort of smart comment back to him about how “you know you don’t really want to do that, believe me”

Well you aren’t going to expect someone to say that, especially in a faculty meeting, people are normally aware that that is not appropriate.

When I first started teaching graduate theory level classes here, there were some of the male graduate students who referred to me as “that girl who teaches theory” and then for a while when I was associate dean there were a few students who referred to me as “the girl dean”. And they do that with Dean Sabovik sometimes too, “oh yeah the girl dean,” not “the dean dean”. It’s the girl dean.

It diminishes the role and says that she isn’t as important.

I think it was just the descriptor that came to mind first but then that brings another question which is why is that the descriptor that comes to mind first. That’s why I do make a point of sharing in class these kinds of discussions because I want students to think about what they are saying and how they are saying it, what is the response to it.

Because a lot of people don’t understand why it’s so important to still address this issue, they say why are you still attacking this.

Yeah a lot of people just assume it’s done. Like “oh the woman problem is solved”. It’s like no, the woman problem is not solved and it’s not really the woman problem, it’s the human problem. This is not just a woman’s problem, it’s got to be everybody.

So has this been something you’ve always been interested in or developed later on in your life?

My dad actually said to me one time, and I love my dad he was fantastic and exceptionally supportive of me in many many ways, but there was one time where he said to me, “I just don’t understand why you are getting a PHD, why do you need a PHD to diaper babies?” Yeah, and to him that was just kind of the attitude. “You’re going to get married, have some kids, I don’t understand why you are bothering to do this other thing.”

I always thought there was a bit of a… division; there was this sort of “oh my brother could go run off as long as he was home for supper no problem, but we had to tell him exactly where we  (me and my sister) were going to be.

There were always these gender issues that were always kind of looming and then just as I became more educated and more aware, especially studying communication, those issues just became much more glaring, and so it’s just become something that has always been an interest of mine, and just manifested in different ways

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