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 counterpunch.org, 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