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Supervisor asks student with cancer to turn on their camera during a virtual meeting, and you won’t BELIEVE what happens next /s

Clickbaity article titles aside, it’s a long one. It happened two days ago and I’m still giddy. Enjoy!

All the below names are pseudonyms.

There are two important background things to know for the story:

1.) I was diagnosed with a rare ovarian cancer at the beginning of this year (I had surgery and some chemo and am mostly recovered now). I still have to go in for frequent testing and occasional monitoring. I am a private person to the extent that I have dated people for years without telling my parents, so you best believe random coworkers and bosses are unaware of my medical history.

2.) I attend a university that has an ambassador program. Basically if you have a high enough GPA you are able to interview for the program and if you get in they pay for your tuition during the time you are an ambassador. In exchange you work 5 hours a week and work graduation/other events. I am one of these ambassadors. This is my story. Law and Order sound effect

My supervisor for the ambassador program, Ms. M, has spent the majority of our time together belittling me. As I sit here about to type about her, I find myself already exasperated thinking about reliving some of the details, so I will be short and sweet for both your sake and mine: she follows every rule to the letter and leaves no room for collaboration or discussion.

As an example, we use Microsoft teams for communication, and she has us clock in and out in a group of 20 people by saying “I’m here” and “I’m leaving.” So every day you have to scroll through dozens of messages to find anything of import and listen to notification sounds every time someone so much as takes a lunch break. I suggested using the time clock function on teams and even offered to set it up for us, and was told that I was “deliberately undermining her position.”

Another quick example is her vehemence when I told her I didn’t have any social media (to advertise the college). She was certain I was lying and went so far as to ask the other ambassadors to try and “find” me.

They didn’t. There’s nothing to find. Crazy concept.

I’ve challenged her at a couple of junctures, but ultimately realized I was fighting a losing battle and I’d be better off keeping my head down. (laughs in dramatic irony)

Fast forward to four days ago (Friday): there’s a mandatory virtual event in three days (Monday) where the dean of the college would talk to the ambassadors, as well as live stream the event to the college’s website and YouTube page.

Ms. M sent out a message that I will copy and paste here (because the formatting is so dramatic that it makes me chuckle). “Students MUST have their cameras ON and phones OFF. Repeat!! Phones OFF. Cameras ON.” (Like c’mon lady, bold, caps, or italics. Your email almost gave me a stroke)

I follow up the same day: “Ms. M, unfortunately I will be at a doctor’s appointment at this time and will be unable to turn my camera on during the event.”

No response.

I send another email to follow up. No response.

The day of the event rolls around. I direct message her through Microsoft teams ten minutes before. I see that she’s seen the message with a read receipt. Nothing.

Okay, video chat starts and several students join the session with their cameras on. Then the dean. He gets halfway through introducing himself and Ms. M interrupts him as he takes a brief pause and says “excuse me, could we please have ALL of the students turn their cameras on.”

I say nothing but put a quick message I already had typed in anticipation in the group chat “Ms. M I have a private situation that bars me from turning on my camera, I have contacted you individually.”

Not but a few seconds after I send it, I get called out by name, and I respond audibly, “Ms. M I cannot turn on my camera at this time.” and she responds “expectations were clear and you were told multiple times about this; every other student here managed to do it and I expect the same out of you.”

Now, one of the cool things about having cancer is you become very familiar with the hospital staff, and if you’re lucky, they’re fun to talk to. During COVID my nurses were my tethers to sanity because no one could visit me while I had inpatient infusions. So I told one of my nurses, Amy, about this situation beforehand. She joked that if I was told to turn my camera on, I should really play up my illness. In any other situation I would’ve been entirely opposed, but sweet revenge was in sight (when I replay it in my head I imagine that anime fist-clenching thing when the protagonist resolves to get revenge). I set my laptop back a bit further from myself on my legs so you could see the entirety of me in my hospital regalia.

Teams will display the person currently talking as the largest image in chat. Everyone had their audio off except me, the dean, and Ms. M, so when I turned my camera on I was displayed as the EKG loudly thrummed away (on max volume, thanks to Amy).


Me: “I asked Ms. M through email and teams if I could opt out of having my camera on, but she insisted.”

I waited a beat to see if anyone would say anything and then continued with my special vocal blend of melodramatic gratitude and illness-laden shakiness: “Virtual engagement is so important for this new era of learning. I can see why having the camera on is important, though I was hoping I might be granted an exception.”

Dean: “Ms. R, you are more than welcome to turn your camera off, I am so sorry for the misunderstanding.”

Me: “thank you so much for making a special exception for me. It’s been a difficult week but I feel grateful to be here.”

Then, two people leave the call. One was Ms. M and the other was Anthony, who is Ms. M’s boss! I didn’t know he’d be there! Haven’t heard from either of them yet but I’m awaiting a follow up with anticipation.

I’m typing this from the hospital and feeling gratitude for a lot of things (‘tis the season, after all). I am here. I am alive. And above all, this stupid disease won’t stop me from putting a bully in their goddamned place.

TL;DR I am recovering from cancer and had to go in to be monitored for a separate but related condition. A supervisor for a school program insisted I turn on my camera for a virtual event that was live-streamed and when I turned my camera on, could see I was very much hospitalized. Hilarity ensues cue sitcom music

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