@NickDuong_/Twitter
A mock draft of what the RateMyProfessor looked like before removing its chili pepper rating in June. A professor’s tweet about the rating caused an uproar on social media.

The world stood still as news broke that the chili-pepper rating on Ratemyprofessor.com has been removed by the popular website used by students to give feedback on professors and classes. Why would such a monstrosity occur? Who shall incur the wrath of millions of students across the country?

BethAnn McLaughlin, a Vanderbilt University professor, called out the website to eliminate their chili-pepper rating — regarding the “hotness” rating as “obnoxious” and “utterly irrelevant” to teaching.

https://twitter.com/McLNeuro/status/1011714399936053249 @McLNeuro

RateMyProfessor responded to the tweet explaining that the chili-pepper is used to “reflect a dynamic/exciting teaching style.” Ultimately, the website decided to remove the rating less that 72 hours after the initial tweet.

https://twitter.com/ratemyprofessor/status/1012425187835465728 @RateMyProfessor

Even though this should be the end of the story, McLaughlin replied to the tweet inferring that RateMyProfessor should send her an Edible Arrangement—perhaps to make up for the severe emotional trauma of not receiving a chili-pepper.

https://twitter.com/McLNeuro/status/1012549806110203904 @McLNeuro  

Despite McLaughlin’s beliefs, a red pepper emoji is an infinitesimal threat to feminism. This wasn’t a prominent issue until Professor McLaughlin decided to make it one. She used this seemingly small matter to move along Twitter support for #MeTooSTEM which is designed to bring awareness to the sexual harassment of female teachers within the science, technology, engineering and mathematic fields.

The issue regarding the chili-pepper and the maltreatment of women within education are two separate issues that should be spoken of separately. It’s unfair to RateMyProfessor to assume that their emoji — used to describe a fun teaching environment — is the cause of the harassment that women within STEM face. There is no logical reason why a digital chili-pepper could be a major contributor to this tragedy.

Sexual harassment within academia is a serious issue and should not be spoken of lightly. Recently, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, published a study about sexual harassment on college campuses stating, “40 percent of medical students experienced sexual harassment from faculty or staff.”

After the publication of this report, many female professors and students with STEM and medical majors brought light of the struggles they had faced throughout higher education. MeTooStem has developed a space on WordPress to discuss the harassment and trials that women in science and medicine have faced—ranging from being skipped over for promotions and awards, to sexual assault- these are issues that no woman should have to deal with while pursuing their education.

Many women have bravely shared their stories about their rape, harassment, and mistreatment and how it has affected their academic careers. Although constant tragedy has occurred, it is improbable that all of these issues came from a chili-pepper sticker on an open forum about teaching.

McLaughlin claims that she attacked the chili-pepper because it sends a message that a teacher’s looks are more important than their ability to teach. In reality this website should not carry any weight. Posting on this website is the equivalent of someone posting a rude comment on a Facebook post. Sure, it isn’t too nice, but you shouldn’t take it to heart.

In an interview with Poynter.org, McLaughlin said, “as surprising as it may seem, schools pay attention to RateMyProfessors’ comments when they are making decisions about tenure and promotion.”

Whatever schools are evaluating teachers based on RateMyProfessor comments should reassess their values and commitment to education. This website’s main contributors are college students who are either impressed with how easy they received an A in a class or angry their 72.4% C wasn’t rounded to a B+, not making it the most reliable source of information when it comes to professional performance.

This website should hold no real weight when assessing a professor’s ability to teach. Comments aren’t precisely monitored, and like any public forum, inflammatory comments are allowed to be published. A school should allow students to evaluate teachers in a confidential manner, which is why course evaluations exist.

If a higher education institute is seriously “grading” their teachers based on comments on an online public forum, shame on them, but take that issue up with the institute you work for, not RateMyProfessor.

The chili-pepper rating isn’t some outstanding “hot or not” list that you would see in an early 2000s teen movie —the chili-pepper was used to let you know which classes are worth taking and which will waste your time.

Last semester, a middle-aged professor here at the University of Nevada, Reno, even asked his students to help him achieve his goal of gaining the coveted chili-pepper because despite being a great professor, he didn’t have the pepper to prove it. Let’s be clear, he didn’t want the pepper because as a reflection of his good looks, but because he found it hilarious. After years of teaching that was the sole achievement he had yet to receive, and his students made it happen.

RateMyProfessor is a tool that should be used and interpreted with a light heart while informing students of the everyday realities of that specific classroom. Like all public forums, there will be bullies, there will be fanatics and there will be people who think the feedback is factual. Just like everything else on the internet, try not to take it to heart. Although this small token has been removed, but its lasting essence will remain etched in the almost 20 year history of RateMyProfessor. RIP chili pepper.