Late last month, an American University professor brought along her baby daughter to the first day of class and breastfed her while continuing to lecture and go over the syllabus for her “Sex, Gender & Culture” course. Now, let’s add some context to the story.
Assistant anthropology professor Adrienne Pine woke to find her daughter suffering from a fever and fearing she had no viable child-care alternatives, she decided to had no other choice but to bring her to class.
Throughout most of the session, the baby, dressed in a cute blue onesie, crawled on the floor when she wasn’t strapped onto Pine’s back, The Washington Post reports. At one point, the mother had to retrieve a paper clip from the baby’s mouth and direct her away from an electrical outlet.
Then the baby got restless and cranky at some point during the 75-minute class and, in front of 40 students, Pine let the baby girl latch onto her breast and began breastfeeding her, still lecturing and going over the syllabus. According to the professor, a teaching assistant also held and rocked the baby.
Pine thought nothing of the incident and left the classroom unfazed. Her students on the other hand, well, they made sure to spread the news about the strange opening-day of class on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
After a student newspaper inquired about the incident, Pine grew frustrated and wrote an online essay titled “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing my Breasts on the Internet.” Pine wrote that she was “shocked and annoyed that this would be considered newsworthy” and argued her workplace was now “a hostile environment.”
The Washington Post has more on the fallout:
Now the campus community and others who have been following Pine’s story are debating whether the professor did the right thing by bringing her sick baby to the Aug. 28 class and breast-feeding her. They also are questioning her response, when she publicly upbraided student journalists and asserted that the tone of a reporter’s questions implied an “anti-woman” view.
On Tuesday, university officials issued a statement that appeared to convey disapproval.
“For the sake of the child and the public health of the campus community, when faced with the challenge of caring for a sick child in the case where backup childcare is not available, a faculty member should take earned leave and arrange for someone else to cover the class, not bring a sick child into the classroom,” the statement said.
The statement, e-mailed by Camille Lepre, a spokeswoman, indicated that the university follows federal and D.C. law for nursing mothers.
“A faculty member’s conduct in the classroom must be professional,” the statement said. “Faculty may maintain a focus on professional responsibilities in the classroom by taking advantage of the options the university provides, including reasonable break times, private areas for nursing mothers to express milk, and leave in the case of a sick child.”
The university’s statement also said Pine’s online essay was unprofessional and criticized the way she characterized American University students. Pine is still teaching at AU, now in her fourth year.
While Pine refused to respond to press inquiries, she, in her essay, on counterpunch.org sarcastically gave her view on the entire ordeal:
“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 student newspaper that initially reached out to Pine for comment did not have a story about the incident on its website but students still took to the online message board titled “Eagle Rants” where there was much disagreement about who is in the wrong.
“Shame on The Eagle for harassing a professor in pursuit of a completely unnewsworthy ‘story,'” one person wrote.
Another complained: “These dogmatic academic types never admit their inappropriateness, but rather scorn at the ‘uncultured’ world around them.”
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