STUDENT’S VANGUARD:  Office Hours – The Silent Curator of Classroom Justice 

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

By Praniti Gulyani

Even though I am not an ardent practitioner of cinematography or film technology, and fail to grasp the camera-oriented intricacies that go into creating an almost metaphysical magic for the audience,  there is a particular on-screen effect that never fails to intrigue me.

In addition to articulating the abstractions of the human mind, this effect goes hand-in-hand with the story of the film—simultaneously contributing to the intensity of the plot. In addition to enhancing the viewing experience, it enables the audience to feel deeply connected with the characters on screen—psychologically, as well as emotionally.

The cinematographic effect in discussion involves that specific, yet subtle transition of the mind from claustrophobic confusion to calming clarity. Even though we might not always be able to express how this psychological shift feels in concrete sentences, it can be best understood as that pivotal moment in a movie, when the protagonist in question wakes up after a coma or a long period of hibernation.

As they restore themselves to human reality, the world around them is an initial blur of swirling color.

However, when they rub the sleep out of their lashes, and attempt to urge themselves into present time consciousness, the outwardly blurry world seems to clear up. The swirling colors of the everyday world that had initially bewildered the protagonist harden into tangible and “commonplace” objects ranging from a chair, to a table, and even the sky.

This enables the protagonist to experience reconnection with their surroundings, and simultaneously facilitate a sense of belonging that is the absolute core of human existence.

As an audience member, a young adult, and an aspiring film critic, this scene has always had a significant impact on my mind. There was something immensely fulfilling about watching blurry surroundings clear up.

The abrupt discarding of confusion and misunderstanding, followed by its replacement with clarity and comprehension, always gave me a lot of hope, and I found myself connecting it with personal challenges of confusion and stagnation.

No matter how indecipherable the colors of my present circumstances seemed to be, I would always tell myself that—like the protagonist(s) in the movies—the colors that had collected on the windshield of my world would clear up. They would soon solidify into objects of familiarity and purpose. Even though blurry confusion might seem to be a major portion of my young adult present, clarity would be what I called, my ‘grown up’ eventuality.

For the longest time, my association with this cinematographic experience that enraptured me and “gripped my senses” was somewhat distant. The learnings that this cinematic “special effect” bestowed upon me were in fact a byproduct of active attempts made on my part to make human connections with the otherwise animated display.

I think it had so much of an impact on me because of my ability to realize the human within the technical.

However, I did ponder on multiple occasions about how it would feel to be the protagonist, the thriving human within the scene who experiences the refreshing transition from confusion to clarity.

In the last 19 years of my life, like every other human being, I had endured confusion, and embraced clarity in almost equal measures.

But, I never got the chance to experience the slow gradualness of shifting from being confused about something, to feeling absolutely clear about that same thing. I wonder how it felt to watch every separate strand of an ongoing dilemma settle down, and slowly come together.

As my life progressed, and I hit the ripeness of my 20’s, the presence of incomprehensibility only increased, making me realize how humans constantly thrive on the stale gray gum of “not knowing anything for sure.”

The first wave of confusion hit me in the academic space, as I exited my fourth lecture of English 45A—my head throbbing under the weight of Chaucer’s bewildering humor and indecipherable linguistic techniques.

Reeling under the overbearing nature of the General Prologue, I remember standing outside my professor’s office, wondering if the English Major was actually meant for me. If it was, I would not have struggled with the beginning of Chaucer, and as I looked at the syllabus for the weeks to come, I could not help but wince.

How would I get through all of that with such an unsteady understanding of what seemed to be the basics? Would I get through the course at all? As I tried to distract myself and focus on a doodle that was pinned to the adjacent professor’s billboard, a persisting voice hissed into my ears.

“What if you fail?”

A moment later, the door opened and my professor stepped out. In spite of myself, I gasped—as I had never seen him up close. All this while, my professor had been a speaking figure behind a podium, and even though this analogy might sound unusual, hearing him speak in class had almost been like witnessing a podium with a head.

For some reason, seeing him in complete, human form was oddly reassuring—and, for some reason, it made the coursework seem a lot more approachable.

As I stepped inside, the vibrant colors of the office calmed my nerves. My professor seemed to be prepared for my questions even without knowing what they were.

With an annotated copy of The General Prologue by his side, he had everything I could possibly need—different colored highlighters, a Middle English dictionary, a bright smile, and, most importantly, a will to explain—over and over again.

“Would you like to go over it again, with me?” he asked, as I nodded.

I was able to explain to my professor how I felt academically inferior to my peers, because being an international student who came from a different education system, I did not have a high school background in Middle English.

Additionally, I had not read Chaucer before—which is why the linguistic techniques and literary devices were completely new to me.

“I noticed how in class today, everyone knew what litotes are,” I stated, as my professor nodded with understanding eyes. “I did not do a lot of literary devices in high school. Maybe alliteration and personification, but that was about it. We never did such in-depth analysis. And the newness of everything scares me. I feel so behind. It is almost as though my classmates are on the tenth step of the ladder, and I’m still lingering on the first one.”

As I dished out my hiccups before my professor, I expected him to come at me with high-profile academic solutions meant to bring about instant change. With this thought in mind, I pulled up a fresh Google document on my laptop—all set to take detailed and elaborate notes.

However, I was in for a surprise. Instead of whipping up a solution, my professor put forth a question before me.

“So, you’re a Creative Writer?” he inquired in a matter-of-fact tone.

“I am, yes,” I responded, slightly taken aback.

“So when you write, you must be using literary devices without realizing it. Have you ever used sentences such as ‘I am not the best friend you can get’ or ‘Apple pie is not my favorite dessert’ in your writing?” he cross-questioned.

“I have, yes,” I answered, instantly reminded of my poem, “My Mother is Not the Strongest Woman.”

“There you go. An excellent example of litotes is right there, in front of you. So whenever you write next time, I want you to try and identify the literary devices that we do in class in your writing. As far as I can tell, you are already using a lot of them without realizing,” he advised.

As I took in his suggestions, the swirling and somewhat bewildered colors of my academic life solidified into objects of comprehensible clarity, and I realized that Chaucer’s world was not so complicated after all. It comprised easy-to-grasp elements that included: April rain, a deceased Saint, and a group of curious travelers headed toward a far-off land.

Even though I had managed to absorb each element for its inherent individuality, the skill lay in making meaningful connections between them, and under my professor’s tutelage, I managed to successfully accomplish the same.

As I exited my professor’s office and made my way down the stairs that headed toward the classrooms, I realized that the cinematographic experience with its well-executed technical transitions that had gripped my attention from a distance all this while, had finally left the boundaries of the screen and trickled into my present moment. The only difference was that the cinematographic experience had now embraced specific nomenclature in the context of my college life, namely “office hours.”

In addition to giving me the opportunity to experience the transition from confusion to clarity in a manner that was delightfully humane, well-executed office hours enabled me to feel at par with everyone else in the classroom, despite coming from a different educational background.

Along with being a location of lifelong learning, the classroom had transformed into a space of academic justice and educational equality.

As I grappled with the ecstasy that this revelation brought with it, I watched the tenth step of the academic ladder that I had assumed my classmates to be positioned on slide down and merge with the first step.

Before my enraptured eyes, the two steps discarded their former identities as thin strips of exclusively individualized progress and expanded to form a collective platform that facilitated group-based growth.

Almost instantly, the inclined distance of academic hierarchy that heralded the difference between the first step and the tenth step disappeared.

It seemed as though the tenth step had never existed at all.

About The Author

Praniti Gulyani is a second-year student at UC Berkeley majoring in English with minor(s) in Creative Writing and Journalism. During her time at The Davis Vanguard as a Court Watch Intern and Opinion(s) Columnist for her weekly column, ‘The Student Vanguard' within the organization, she hopes to create content that brings the attention of the general reader to everyday injustice issues that need to be addressed immediately. After college, she hopes to work as a writer or a columnist in a newspaper or magazine, using the skills that she gains during her time at The Davis Vanguard to reach a wider audience.

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