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Miss Conduct

Advice: Putting a stop to an instructor’s unwanted touching

Plus, how to make sure big personal news doesn’t break on your Facebook wall.

I’m a female taking an art class with a male instructor. His style is very folksy and personable, but he tends to touch me whenever he’s talking to me, including on the waist and lower back. It makes me super uncomfortable. Please tell me the right way to make this stop! There is a head of the art school, in case talking to her would be one of your thoughts.

Anonymous / Boston

Talk to the head of your school first if you don’t feel comfortable saying anything to your teacher. Gut instincts are your best guide. Don’t second-guess yourself.

But if you are comfortable sticking with the class until it happens again, you might be able to clarify the situation in a way that will strengthen your position. The next time your teacher touches you, say, “Please don’t touch me. I’m not a ‘touchy’ person.” Don’t be hostile, but more important, don’t grin and wriggle and apologize. Your tone is neutral; no quarter given, no blame assigned. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t speak up before. You’re saying something now.

Professor Handsy will now do one of two things. He may apologize and say that he will stop. Or he may try to explain why he is right to be touching you and you are wrong to object to it.

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If he does the first, great! Thank him with brisk cheer. If he argues, stop him — or let him run his little monologue out, whichever amuses you — and say, “Just to clarify: I asked you to stop touching me, and you replied that you are not going to. Is that what I heard?” If he starts another diatribe, repeat the question. If he revs up again, say, “I don’t think this conversation is productive anymore. Thanks for your time!” and leave the room. However he responds, write down the conversation in as much detail as you can immediately afterward.

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If he argued with you or agreed to change his behavior and then did not, go to the head of the art school and bring your notes on the original conversation with you. If she doesn’t appear to take your concern seriously, let her know that you will be seeking out other students who may have had similar experiences. Harassers always have multiple victims.

I would never post congratulations on someone’s Facebook wall before they’ve announced their engagements, new jobs/promotions, etc., but other people are not like me. Short of turning off my wall until I’m ready to make it “Facebook official” that a kiddo is on the way, is there anything else I can do?

V.P. / Manchester, New Hampshire

What’s wrong with turning off your wall? It’s hardly a Draconian maneuver! It’s so non-Draconian it’s downright . . . Nevillian. Neville Longbottom from Harry Potter wouldn’t think twice. Besides, darling, it’s an election year. Hasn’t everyone locked down their social media more than usual? Not even the most ardent baby bump watcher is going to suspect the real reason you’ve disallowed wall postings. Your political friends and family will assume that it’s someone else’s postings you find annoying, surely not theirs. And you may want to limit social media contact once you announce the pregnancy/birth, otherwise you could get swamped with unsolicited advice and scaremongering articles. As Ronald Reagan might have put it, Ms. First Trimester, turn off that wall!

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Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.


WHAT UNCOMFORTABLE INTERPERSONAL SITUATIONS ARE YOU STRUGGLING WITH? Send your questions to Miss Conduct at missconduct@globe.com.