my students are awesome

i mentioned in my last post that two of my students attended the howard lyman speaking event on our campus. i had announced the event in class that day, and was really pleasantly surprised to see both of them there. but here comes the best part: they both decided to go vegan. the talk was on tuesday night, and by wednesday night one had emailed me to tell me, and on thursday morning i saw the other and she told me. honestly, i have just been walking on air.

allow me to back up a bit. my students know that i’m vegan, but i haven’t talked about it much in class. i don’t want to come across as the weirdo vegan professor with an agenda. that said, i teach classes on personal relationships, and my teaching style is pretty informal and self-disclosive. i give a lot of examples from my life, and i encourage them to do the same. sometimes that means "animal stuff" comes up, but i’m usually pretty careful about what i say.

about a month ago, i realized mid-example that one of my classes wasn’t quite as aware of my veganism as was my other class. i guess i hadn’t said the word "vegan" out loud to them yet, or something. we had an awkward moment or two, but then the hands started going up. they had all kinds of questions about what it means to be vegan, why i had decided to be vegan, and so on and so forth. i felt somewhat "guilty" for taking the class off-track, but i also wanted to answer their questions, so i tried to do my absolute best with each one: when i would get a question, i carefully considered it and gave the most concise-yet-vivid answer i could think of. more hands would go up, and the cycle would repeat. i left class feeling really uplifted; they honestly cared. it was just a really neat teaching day.

about an hour after that class ended, i was sitting in my office hours when my email chimed at me. it was a message from one of the students in that class (we’ll call her A), and it was long and almost stream-of-consciousness in style. she was writing to tell me that she was really happy to hear me talk about all of that stuff in class, and that she’s been a vegetarian for a long time, and her family isn’t supportive, but now that she’s heard what i had to say, she wants to go vegan and she wants my help. you could have knocked me over with a feather. i told her right away that she had made my week. we ended up emailing back and forth all weekend… i gave her a bunch of links for research purposes, and i answered all of her questions, and it was very energizing. i know this sounds so hokey but i really felt like i had made a positive impact. yippee!!

the next class period, one of my students came up to me to tell me that he had been thinking about what i had said over the weekend, and that when he filled up at the gas station, he noticed a warning label stating that gas fumes have been known to cause cancer in lab animals (or some such). he was really surprised and pretty grossed out to think that we would "need" to test something like that on animals. then another student said to him, "well, you know, they test everything that way," and we had an eye-opening pre-class discussion about vivisection.

okay, so then fast-forward a couple of weeks, and the howard lyman date arrives. i made the announcement in class just for kicks (i figured some people might find it intriguing) and pretty much left it at that. two more students (B & C) show up to that, and within two days i’m involved in email conversations with both of them about how to go vegan.

meanwhile, a fourth student (D) has been periodically wandering up before or after class to ask me random questions. "where do you buy your shoes?" "i was talking to my friend about you, and she asked me if you wear wool. do you?" "is any chocolate vegan?" i answered her questions whenever she asked, and eventually she started stopping by my office. she has a severely lactose-intolerant nephew, so i gave her some recipes and shopping tips to pass along to his parents. then all of a sudden last weekend, she emailed me to basically ask me for my vegan story. she said she was just getting very curious about the whole thing, and she was wondering how i ended up going vegan, and she also mentioned that when school is over (she graduates next month), she wants to research veganism. by this point i was riding high on the sweet experiences with A, B, and C, so i fired off a loooong email to D about my vegan story and i told her i’d love to answer any questions she has, or help her research, or whatever. she said she would definitely take me up on it.

last week B and C both met with me to talk about grocery shopping, restaurants, and just general vegan stuff. C told me that she gave away the turkey leaflet i handed out to one of her friends already, so i gave her some more. C is entirely psyched, and it’s really cute to watch. i just feel so happy about all of this! anyhow, when i was meeting with B and C (separately) last week, i asked them what they thought about maybe going out to lunch or dinner sometime, so they could pick my brain and kind of have an automatic support group. they both loved the idea, so i pitched it (officially) to all four of them this weekend–they’re all in. yay!

i feel like this post is just one giant "hooray!!" ramble, but at least it helps account for my absence over the past 10 days or so.



  1. That just made go go “Awwww!” I love hearing stories like this! As a recent vegan I know how much it helps having people around that you can talk to about vaganism and that you can ask all the stupid questions to and get a good answer to them.

  2. It’s not hokey, it’s wonderful. You really are making a difference, and you can see it taking place right in front of you. But you’re not just making a difference; you’re changing the world. You’re making it more peaceful, just, and kind.
    Something about what you said or the way you said it really touched your students. Please share any tips with the rest of us.
    This post reminds us that in our own way, we’re all making a difference, even if we don’t see it right away. It’s all cumulative, it’s all good. Let the vegan bandwagon roll!

  3. thank you so much for the support, you guys! all of these comments gave me warm fuzzies. 🙂
    i’m not sure what i’m doing right, gary, other than choosing my words carefully and trying to be as approachable as possible. if anyone shows interest about anything, i usually send them a little follow-up email to encourage them. i’ll try to pay better attention to myself!
    of course, it still frustrates me that some people in my life are SO interested in this stuff, while others (who are much closer to me) would do almost anything rather than talk about it with me… but i guess that’s one of life’s little mysteries, no?

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