Professor Emily VanVlinken was letting a student tell a sad story in the middle of her Psychology 100 class for the third time that day when, as she described, “Something in me just snapped.”
According to students in the class, the young woman had been going on a long and winding monologue for twelve minutes before VanVlinken intervened.
“There was something about how her cat had died, and then she went on about her relationship with her mother, and then somehow we were talking about how she has an anxiety disorder…. It was a mess,” said Kathy Kringle, a sophomore biology student. “I can hardly blame Professor VanVlinken for what happened.”
What happened, according to eyewitnesses, was an outburst unlike any the students had ever seen. Students reported VanVlinken yelling, “Nobody cares about your cat!” What followed was a torrent of pent-up rage that lasted for the rest of the lecture time, finishing with VanVlinken’s statement that “I didn’t get a PhD to hear you guys talk about what you think about psychology! Do you think I went to school for SIX YEARS to sit here and listen to you talk about how you’re all depressed? Go get help! You all need help!”
After the class ended and VanVlinken had spent a few minutes weeping at her desk, she prepared herself for the worst. “
“I thought I was getting fired for sure,” she said. “I certainly didn’t expect the sympathy I got from the department.”
As it turns out, VanVlinken had simply opened the floodgates to a larger discussion on oversharing about personal problems in introductory psychology classes.
“Listen, I get it,” said Dr. Jim James, the Psychology Department chair, “People take psychology classes because they’re mentally unwell. We all know that. But for the love of all that’s holy, can students be a little more classy about it?”
Professor Susie Rose, an intro psychology instructor and a professional counselor, said that VanVlinken’s comments were “incredibly brave.”
“They just wear you down,” Rose said. “I’m a counselor. It’s literally my job to be nice to people. I tell you, though, when you’ve spent ten minutes hearing all about some kid’s stupid Freudian theory about how his tension with his mother in kindergarten shaped his teenage years as an outcast… I swear, even Mr. Rogers would lose his ****.”
Based on the consensus of exasperated faculty and students who were tired of hearing their classmates’ sob stories, the Psychology Department has instituted a “no oversharing” policy.
“Starting immediately, we’re giving professors the option to mute students if they bring up a personal story,” said James. “If the student persists later on in the lecture, the professor may change their Zoom name to a slightly derogatory nickname. With in-person lectures, it’s a little more complicated, but we feel we’ve worked out a good solution. Any student who overshares will first receive a warning, but on the second offense, they will be forced to wear the Funny Hat.”
Some students have expressed that the measures are too harsh, but others seemed relieved.
“I didn’t have a psychological disorder before I took this class, but I was about to get one if I had to hear another student claim to understand the material on a personal level because they felt anxious once,” said freshman Bobby Humburg. “It really had to stop.”
As for VanVlinken, she’s just grateful that she was able to make a difference for so many of her colleagues.
“Somebody needed to start the conversation,” she said. “I’ll admit I feel a little bad that I made a girl cry, but… no, you know what? She deserved it.”