Georgia high school student Sam McNair of Duluth, Georgia was suspended for hugging his teacher. The hug was caught on the school’s security surveillance video equipment, and the punishment the school handed down prevents the high school senior from graduating on time. There are strong points of view on both sides of this argument. Did the hug constitute sexual harassment as the school suggested, or was it an innocent, kind gesture to brighten the teacher’s day as McNair has indicated he intended?
Although he has had disciplinary action taken for other things in the past, never has there been any complaint taken against him for sexual harassment or any related behavior. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, I empathize with his stated desire to brighten people’s day with a hug. In fact, when his mom was interviewed, she supported his claim that they are a family that loves to hug and does so very often. But on the other hand, a hug isn’t the only way to brighten someone’s day.
I know a few people personally who are huggers. They hug to say hi. They hug to show empathy for things you’re going through. They hug for any damn reason under the sun. Frankly I don’t like it when casual people reach out to hug me. I’ve always thought of a hug as something you share with people you care about deeply in either a romantic or agape manner. I don’t know if the teacher made it known that she didn’t like to be hugged. But if she did, she had an obligation to let him know. That’s the essence of sexual harassment: behavior that is unwelcomed and unwanted.
With the kind of violence and destruction that many kids cause, I think it’s pretty cool to have a student to reach out and give a hug. Those who don’t like it can ask not to be hugged in the future. It makes me wonder if more was going on with that teacher than her desire not to be hugged by that student. Now, he has to wait an additional year in order to graduate and lose eligibility for the scholarships he would have gotten had he graduated on time. But perhaps it’s good that he learned this less now while he is young. In the workplace, he could face a variety of sanctions, including a civil judgment and getting fired. I hope that the teacher one day realizes how she stifled this student’s progress, and I hope this student uses this incident as motivation to work twice as hard to achieve greatness.