In one of my courses we had to do a group project that included a presentation. One of my group members Deena is a nontraditional student in that she was a practicing counselor for about 25 years before coming to graduate school for a second time. The professor of the course also has training as a clinician but is younger than Deena by about 10-15 years, and never actually practiced as a clinician (this may or may not be relevant to the situation).
During our presentation Deena made what was intended as a lighthearted aside where she used a non-PC term for psychiatric patients*. The professor stopped Deena and told her that it was not an appropriate term to use. She apologized and continued the presentation.
Deena told me afterwards that she felt that since presentations in the class are typically very informal/conversational, and her joke was meant to be lighthearted, that she wished the professor had waited until after class to talk to her about using the term instead of interrupting her and correcting her in front of the entire class. Also, Deena's attitude towards talking about mental health is "you have to laugh, or you'll cry" and that humor is healing - but that of course you have to also be sensitive about terminology, and she may have misstepped during her presentation.
The class meets twice a week, and Deena wasn't feeling well the day before the next class. She had gone to the doctor and they had ran some tests and confirmed she had an infection, and additionally there was some concern she might have a cancerous growth. She wrote the professor an email to tell him she wouldn't be able to attend class because she was receiving medical treatment and going for some tests (she didn't specify why). She also apologized again for offending him with her use of inappropriate terminology in her talk.
The professor did not say anything in regards to her health, i.e. "hope you feel better soon," nor did he acknowledge or accept her apology - but he did apparently write her a fairly chastising email where he said that she was "not acting as a good role model for clinicians" by using such language.
Deena is extremely upset because she feels she has really tried to communicate her regret at her poor language choice and in return the professor has continued to lecture her and portray her as a bad clinician who uses insensitive language - while himself acting insensitive towards her in regards to her medical issues. As she put it, "If I had mentioned 'the big C' do you think he would have been nicer about it, and isn't it sad that I'm wondering about that in the first place?"
Additionally, the professor himself has made a few off-color jokes throughout the semester that could easily be construed as offensive if one were to be uncharitable. For him to not give Deena the benefit of the doubt, when we have extended it to him when he has made jokes for example about certain demographics or political affiliations, seems like quite a double standard.
After grades are in, Deena plans on meeting with the chair of the department and the professor to discuss his handling of the situation. What are some polite phrases she can use to convey her upset? I have already suggested she forward his email to the chair, which she plans on doing.
Also, was he actually rude? Is it rude to not acknowledge someone's health issues or apology, or is it just poor social skills?
*I'd rather not say what the term was other than, it was not anything overly pejorative and in the context it was more a jab at this one particularly poorly designed scale of measurement than at any patients themselves (PM me for details), because the debate over terminology in this realm can get rather fraught.