American Professor Objects to Hostile Workplace and “Anti-Woman” Attitude After Students Object to Her Breast-Feeding In Class

The Washington Post has reported on a controversy at American University involving Professor Adrienne Pine who drew complaints from her students in her class “Sex, Gender & Culture” after she breastfed her baby in class. The university has criticized Pine but the controversy has produced a national debate on the propriety of a professor bringing a baby to class and breastfeeding in front of students as she lectures.

In defense of Pine, this was the first class and the baby was sick. She did not want to cancel class and did not have child care options.

Pine allowed the baby to crawl on the floor in the class and was observed removing a paper clip that she found on the floor from her mouth. The baby also had to be shooed away from an electrical socket. She then breastfed the baby in front of the students.

When students complained and the student newspaper sent a reporter, Pine reportedly was angry and described the query and tone as “anti-women.” She proceeded to go public with an online essay titled “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing my Breasts on the Internet.” Ironically, in publishing the essay, Pine insisted that she was “shocked and annoyed that this would be considered newsworthy.” She said that she considered even the inquiry about the incident to have created “a hostile environment.” Pine insisted that these objections from students missed the point of a feminist class:

In her essay, on, Pine summed up her view: “So here’s the story, internet: I fed my sick baby during feminist anthropology class without disrupting the lecture so as to not have to cancel the first day of class. I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it. But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one.”

The university criticized Pine for not taking leave in such a situation to take care of a sick child or arrange for child care. It further criticized the online essay as unprofessional.

I have often allowed students to bring their kids to class when they find themselves in a bind. (I actually enjoy having the kids in class). I tend to agree with the university over the need to take a leave on such a day rather than bring a sick child to class. I am particularly concerned with the response of Pine to the student journalists and the suggestion that such inquiries constitute a “hostile workplace” and “anti-woman” attitude. Not only are these journalists looking into a campus controversy but they are exploring objections from students. Colleges are places for such debates and, as indicated by the response of the university, there are legitimate questions raised by the controversy.

The EEOC defines a hostile work place as

“A hostile work environment is created when an employee is continually harassed, and has documented employment decisions that are biased according to race, ethnicity, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation or socio-economic class.”

As general as that definition may be, it clearly does not encompass a campus controversy over a professor bringing a sick baby to class.

What do you think?

Pine is an anthropology associate professor whose academic bio describes her as “a militant medical anthropologist who . . . has worked both outside and inside the academy to effect a more just world.”

Source: Washington Post

75 thoughts on “American Professor Objects to Hostile Workplace and “Anti-Woman” Attitude After Students Object to Her Breast-Feeding In Class”

  1. @Blouise “The kid reporter was going for the sensationalism and as such stepping right into the news is entertainment mode. ”

    Sorry, but I do not see that at all. I think the best report we have available regarding the student reporter and the student news paper is from Professor Pine herself. I see nothing in Professor Pine’s description that would suggest that the students were anything less than professional and respectful.

    Earlier I mentioned here that I thought that the real issue for discussion had to do with women, children and breast feeding in the work place.

    After reading Professor Pine I think I have to change my view. It seems to me that an important issue is what, if anything, do professors owe to students when controversies arise in the class room.

    I would argue that, regardless of the controversy, professors owe students a process and dialog much like @bettykath’s teachable moment. I am not suggesting in any way that the professor should acquiesces to the student point of view or demands. But shouldn’t professors help and guide students as they develop and understanding and work through controversial subjects?

    The fact is there is a cultural divide on this subject. How ever we decide regarding breast feeding in the work place or in the classroom, there is in fact a controversy.

    I would also ague that when there are controversies between students and professors, especially when the controversy rises to the administration, then the controversy is inherently news worthy – at least to the student newspaper.

    Claiming that this incident is not newsworthy makes about as much sense to me as claiming that Medgar Evers first day in law school was not news worthy. We might wish that it were not news worthy. We might hope for a day when it would not be news worthy. But to claim that it is not news worthy is a kind of denial that simply cannot stand scrutiny.

    The closest to a mis step on the part of the student reporter that I see is that, on one occasion, she asked for an appointment and met the professor after class without receiving a response form the professor.

    Yet, I don’t not see that as rude, abusive or disrespectful. Presumably the student has a perfect right to access university buildings. Since when do Professors occupy such an august position that students may not ask them reasonable questions with or without an appointment?

    In contrast, Professor states that she should have told the student reporter to ‘go to hell’. It is Professor Pine who calls the student news paper “sexist third-rate university newspaper”.

    I would argue two points:

    (1) what ever the sexism on the news paper in the past, the relevant point here is how Professor Pine is being treated by this particular reporter in regard to this particular issue and

    (2) I do not agree that the student news paper is third rate. But so what if it is? Lets just stipulate that these students can’t spell ‘American University’ without a spell checker. So what???

    If the professor really believes that these students are deficient and ‘third rate’ doesn’t she have an even greater obligation to work with the students to help them develop and understanding and appreciation of the situation. Isn’t that exactly why we have professors? Isn’t that exactly and precisely her job?

    Professor Pine even criticizes the student reporter for asking what seems to me to be a particularly relevant question regarding ‘consider the classroom a private or public space’.

    Professor Pine seems to consider this some kind of trick question and seems to think she has outwitted the trick by saying ‘ told her it was both’,

    It seems to me that the question was relevant and reasonable. And I think the answer is also good. To me it seems reasonable to believe that classroom, and perhaps other work places, have some but not all the characteristics of both public and private spaces.

    It is not clear that Jake Carias, 18, a sophomore from New York is the student that brought this incident to the attention of the administration. But I really cannot fault the students for the way they have handled this incident.

    We have a cultural divide. Some of the students have a different view of this subject. It seems to me that they have behaved as responsible university citizens in that they have expressed their view and elevated their difference of opinion to the appropriate level.

    We may not agree with the students. But exactly how can we criticize their responsible behavior? How can we possibly criticize the news paper? I, for one, cannot.

    As for Professor Pine who is also a mother with a very young child? I think she owes her students and the AU community more.

    And I do not see that helping her students, the AU community and perhaps the rest of us work through this a step at a time would have caused any more disruption to her family or taken any more time from her family.

  2. Professor was in the wrong to bring a sick baby to class and cause distraction. Very unprofessional, but a relatively minor sin. Worse was her response to being questioned by newspaper and crying hostile work environment.

  3. Maybe a good question for the reporter to have asked the concerned 18 year old student that notified the paper, and to properly frame the discussion was, “What about it concerned you and why”?

  4. Mammories,

    Mammoeies, pressed between the pages of my mind
    Mammories, sweetened thru the ages just like wine

    Quiet thought come floating down
    And settle softly to the ground
    Like golden autumn leaves around my feet
    I touched them and they burst apart with sweet mammories,
    Sweet memories

    Of holding hands and red bouquets
    And twilight trimmed in purple haze
    And laughing eyes and simple ways
    And quiet nights and gentle days with you

    Mammories, pressed between the pages of my mind
    Mammoeies, sweetened thru the ages just like wine,
    Mammories, memories, sweet memories.
    With my moms Mammories.

  5. As the saying goes, “There’s a time and place for everything”. Walking around, during a class lecture, with a baby hanging off her teat isn’t acceptable. This SHOULD BE common sense, but we’re going to hear about all the diversionary tactics about the US being prude, etc… Which is just that, a diversionary tactic away from the issue at hand. She may need to take a leave of absence. Some businesses and the like offer paid leave so they can be with their child. This is even provided for the father as well in some instances.

    No one is scared of looking at a boob, there’s the internet for pete’s sake. They’re all over the internet. (Just don’t look up what a blue waffle is. Be forewarned.) Everybody has seen one. Nobody is scared of seeing one. That’s not the point.

  6. “But it’s not about the nipples.”

    But it was about nipples as clearly stated by the reporter when she contacted the professor … “it was brought to our attention that you breast fed your child during your Sex, Gender and Culture class”

    ” If it is, for any student or student reporter, it shouldn’t be.” Yes!!!

    The kid reporter was going for the sensationalism and as such stepping right into the news is entertainment mode. I suspect wiser heads prevailed and that is the reason the story hasn’t been published.

    “What matters in this story is that it shows yet again the difficult choices working mothers face every single day. It shows how overheated the conversation can become – accusatory on one side, self-sabotagingly defensive on the other.”

    Thank God … at last!

  7. Blouise,

    Here’s another opinion on the subject:

    Should a teacher breast-feed in class?
    A professor sparks debate when she breast-feeds her baby during a lecture — but that’s not what she did wrong
    By Mary Elizabeth Williams

    This is not a story about breasts.

    You might not know that, though, given the headlines over the past few days, the ones about the controversy that erupted when an American University professor brought her baby to class — and breast-fed while she taught.

    As Romenesko reported Monday, Heather Mongilio, a news assistant at American’s newspaper the Eagle, reached out to professor Adrienne Pine for a comment when “it was brought to our attention that you breast fed your child during your Sex, Gender and Culture class” on Aug. 28. The reporter went on to invite Pine to “discuss what happened in class,” adding, “I understand the delicacy of the matter and I do not want to make you feel uncomfortable, but for the story to have the most balanced angle it would be best to have your thoughts.”

    Pine, noting the irony of it all, replied that “I really wish this weren’t considered ‘newsworthy,’ but I suppose that’s why a feminist anthropology course is necessary at AU.” She explained that she “had no intention of making a political statement or shocking students,” but merely felt “it was unfair to leave the job of teaching the first class to my teaching assistant” when she had a sick baby she couldn’t bring to daycare. She said she was concerned that opting out of the class would “be disruptive” and even put her tenure at risk. “The baby got hungry,” she wrote, “so I had to feed it during the lecture. End of story.”

    But end of story it was not. Ever since the class, the Eagle’s Rants page has been awash in conflicting and spirited debate over what went down. And some of Pine’s students told the Washington Post they didn’t mind the baby but were “appalled” at the nursing. “Just don’t breastfeed in class,” said one student. An 18-year-old may not grasp this concept yet, but a baby doesn’t understand “I’ll feed you after class.” If you’re bringing your baby anywhere with you, you’re feeding your baby.

    Pine herself, however, has been no slouch about fanning the flames of the debate, either. In an essay in Counterpunch, Pine wrote that when her baby woke up with a fever on the first day of class, she decided, “I could not bring her to daycare with a fever, and I did not feel like it was an option to cancel class,” a class that was reasonably uneventful until, “when Lee grew restless, I briefly fed her without stopping lecture, and much to my relief, she fell asleep.”

    The next day, after the tale of the professor who brought a baby to school had made the rounds, Pine got the email from Mongilio at the Eagle. But after Pine sent her reply, she says the reporter nonetheless “accosted” her the following day after her class, “hounding me, as my voice became increasingly hoarse and pained. I, unfortunately, was in professor mode, too polite to tell her to go to hell.” Instead, she reluctantly answered some of the reporter’s questions and then, most unwisely, had second thoughts. She contacted Mongilio and said, “I recognize that I already gave you an interview, but I want to register my strong desire that you not publish this story.” A few days later, after an editor replied that the Eagle still intended to run the story, she emailed him back and said, “Please hide my name.”

    Based on Pine’s reaction, Romenesko declared her “upset” over a reporter’s inquiry. Inside Higher Ed wrote that “Adrienne Pine didn’t want student journalists at American University to write an article about how she had breast-fed her sick infant on the first day of classes this semester.” And the Daily Mail, ever eager to toss a Molotov cocktail into the public discourse, said Pine “faces campus backlash from offended students.” But the backlash now isn’t about the baby.

    I don’t know a working mother who hasn’t found herself in some version of Pine’s dilemma – caught between the demands of a very important professional obligation and the very sudden needs of a child. I don’t know a mother who hasn’t had to make a snap decision about the course of her day, knowing that choice could have serious consequences for her career or her child. Pine made a judgment call, one that she hoped would enable her to fulfill her duties to her baby and her students. And that’s what this is really about. That rock and that hard place.

    The issue isn’t that Pine nursed her kid. If there’s any venue in the world that should be hospitable to a breast-feeding mother, I sincerely hope and pray that place is a classroom for feminist study. It’s clear Pine, who has taught at AU for four years, isn’t the type to drag her baby around campus willy-nilly. She is a woman who says, “I have tried to maintain as much of a separation as possible between my small family and my professional life,” who found herself in an emergency situation.

    Yet she handled it with increasing clumsiness as it unfolded. The university has said that Pine’s choice to bring her baby to class “does not reflect professional conduct” from a health and hygiene standpoint. And it’s correct – a baby who is too sick to go to daycare is too sick to be around a class full of students. It’s not good for her or them. Pine may genuinely have feared professional reprisal, but without any alternative care options, she should have left that first class to her teaching assistant. Believe me, I get it. On a morning just last week I had to gaze into my daughter’s pink, infected eyes and mutter a stream of “My day just got hosed” curses under my breath. It sucks. But sucks is what you get some days. Not because you can’t multitask, but because you shouldn’t take a sick kid out.

    Pine did what seemed like the only option at the moment, and was no doubt surprised that anyone would take issue with her choice, including a few minutes of nursing. She had a right to tell the Eagle she didn’t see the newsworthiness of the event. But she was tremendously wrong to ask the paper not to run the story (although it has yet to) and wrong to ask it to scrub her comments and her name from it. An educator should never traffic in the business of trying to shut down conversation. End of story.

    In her Counterpunch piece, Pine says, “I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it. But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples.” But it’s not about the nipples. If it is, for any student or student reporter, it shouldn’t be. What matters in this story is that it shows yet again the difficult choices working mothers face every single day. It shows how overheated the conversation can become – accusatory on one side, self-sabotagingly defensive on the other. And that while we try our best to balance home and work, some days, everybody falls short — the confrontational reporter, the angry students, the censorious professor. Nobody wins. Sometimes, the best that can happen is the baby gets fed.

  8. “But it wasn’t feeding a sick ­1-year-old that made her look like a boob.”

    Very clever, Petula Dvorak. Another giant step for womanhood.

    “I did not want to slam this woman.”

    … but I will anyway because she didn’t treat a fellow reporter with the respect to which our profession is entitled and, oh yeah, blew the teachable moment that wonderful reporter was handing her on a silver platter.

    After all, the totally respectful and well behaved reporter was simply “responding to a tip from a student who was obviously uncomfortable with seeing a professor she or he had just met breast-feed her baby in the middle of a lecture.”

    And the totally respectful reporter decided that was newsworthy?

    “But I am also a bit uncomfortable with the lactivists and the nursing women who do it in your face, making something that should be no big deal into a shocking political statement.”

    Really?! Hyperbole and a direct misinterpretation of the professor’s intentions as she clearly stated.

    Wouldn’t it be fair to reveal the name of the traumatized student who got this whole ball rolling … you know, so the rest of us can be assured that he/she has recovered? Come on Petula Dvorak … strut your stuff on those ” 4-inch heels “!

    This is fun!

    1. “But I am also a bit uncomfortable with the lactivists and the nursing women who do it in your face”

      Who perform an act that has sustained our species for millions of years and yet, due to strange societal customs, has become something shameful to be done only behind closed doors. I would suggest that anyone who finds observing breast feeding as uncomfortable, or sexually arousing, is weirdly disconnected from their mammalian genetic heritage.

  9. ID707:

    I just changed a couple of words in the song “Ramblin Man”. I dont think Broadway is in my future.

  10. I agree Pine should have taken the moment to teach the kids…if possible.

    But I can almost guarantee that none of the kids that objected was raised on a farm.

    To object to a natural thing as that is…well, it shows the person’s limited view of reality.

    I think the world would be a better place if people had experience on a farm, see animals breed, gather your own eggs, kill your own chicken dinner, slaughter your own beef & pork, raise your own crops, maybe people would see the world differently.

  11. Breast-feeding while teaching isn’t what makes this woman a boob
    By Petula Dvorak, Published: September 12

    The American University professor who breast-fed her baby while teaching a

    class was inappropriate, judgmental and flat-out absurd.

    But it wasn’t feeding a sick ­
    1-year-old that made her look like a boob.

    Adrienne Pine went ballistic because the very natural act of feeding a child clearly freaked out at least one of her students, and the college paper asked a reporter to check it out after people began tweeting about it.

    Pine’s reaction to that inquiry was deplorable. But let’s get back to that.

    First, was it kosher for her to feed her kid while lecturing on the very first day of class?

    I have totally been in awkward situations when I was nursing. Being a breastaurant open 24-7 and having any kind of adult life is difficult. I have nursed a child in three countries, on airplanes, in restaurants, parks, auditoriums and movie theaters. I will add to that résumé a cemetery, the bow of an inflatable dinghy, a ski gondola at 9,000 feet and — I swear this is true — in a two-horse open sleigh.

    But I am also a bit uncomfortable with the lactivists and the nursing women who do it in your face, making something that should be no big deal into a shocking political statement.

    It would be great if it weren’t a big deal, if the same people who go to Hooters didn’t get all skeeved out when they are forced to acknowledge that those delicious breasts might be yummy to very little people, too.

    But, sadly, we’re not there just yet.

    I don’t think I ever did an interview while nursing (at least not a face-to-face one). And I’m guessing that nursing lawyers don’t breast-feed while taking depositions and that nursing doctors don’t have infants latched on while seeing patients. That wouldn’t be professional.

    I wish Pine had turned over the lectern to her teaching assistant or maybe given the students a short reading assignment while she stepped aside to nurse her daughter to sleep. It would’ve illustrated the superwoman nature of what she was pulling off — work/life balance, the beauty of a woman’s capabilities, her trust in the teaching assistant.

    But her decision to breast-feed while lecturing wasn’t her biggest lapse in judgment.

    Last I heard, it is a professor’s job to enlighten, teach and explain. In an online essay, “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet,” Pine said she didn’t whip out the milk to create a teachable moment (though that kind of bold performance while teaching a feminist anthropology class might have earned her points for creativity and chutzpah).

    She was a working mom with a sick baby, and she was in a bind. End of story, she explained in her essay, which she published on the Web site CounterPunch to preempt anything the student newspaper was planning to publish.

    The young journalist, Heather Mongilio, was responding to a tip from a student who was obviously uncomfortable with seeing a professor she or he had just met breast-feed her baby in the middle of a lecture. And let’s be real, most college kids probably have had very little interaction with breasts in this context.

    Looking at the e-mails between them, Mongilio was careful, respectful and thorough.

    But rather than work with the student journalist in a calm, mature and professional way, Pine lost it. And me.

    She was mean to Mongilio, excoriating her for asking questions. Pine ridiculed, belittled, mocked and lashed out at the student and the paper. She shared e-mails she wrote to the AU Eagle attempting to censor the paper, demanding that its editors shut down the story. And she succeeded.

    In her essay, Pine wrote that the “ideal of the university is to be a forum where ideas can be exchanged and debated publicly.” Except when you don’t like the ideas, I suppose.

    I did not want to slam this woman. We get in trouble for staying home with a sick kid and for working with a sick kid. We get told to breast-feed, then we freak people out when we do it. It is a constant struggle to strike a balance that works.

    But attacking a student who asks questions and trying to censor a student newspaper is not feminist, not motherly and definitely not professorial.

    Professor Pine completely lost her teachable moment.

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