After an anonymous source created a wave of backlash culminating in the form of a discussion on Fox News, SU Assistant Professor of Education Dr. Erin Stutelberg has stood by her teaching methods that came under fire.
The report surfaced on Jan. 17 when Campus Reform, a conservative website seeking to weed out liberal bias at universities, published an article regarding a ‘Pyramid of White Supremacy’ that was used in an SU course. The course was ELED 397 Diversity and the Self, a course that is required for early education majors.
Seeing this as liberal bias Kassy Dillon, the correspondent for Campus Reform, gained information from this anonymous student about the usage of the pyramid throughout the class.
Following the report SU Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Karen Olmstead made a statement defending Stutelberg and all other faculty’s right to use whatever means of teaching they decide.
The statement went on to explain the diversity shown at SU through various organizations such as College Republican and College Democrat groups, demonstrating that the campus is not one-sided. After the university’s statement there had been no more comments on the matter.
The previous fall semester was the first time teaching the course for Stutelberg. The one-credit course met once each week engaging in discussions and written assignments based on the materials and readings that were given.
Stutelberg outlined the course objectives as being able to define and discuss diversity, understanding the role of critical consciousness and cultural competence in teaching and becoming aware of their multicultural efficacy and diversity discomfort among others. As an early education course, the teaching method was also influenced by feedback from school districts.
“Recently, school districts which hire SU graduates have requested that future teachers enter their first teaching positions better prepared to support learning in diverse classrooms,” Stutelberg said. “This course along with two additional diversity courses were developed to help meet those needs.”
Stutelberg admitted that the pyramid was one of many course materials used throughout the class in order to push students to learn more about diversity and the surrounding topics. The use of the pyramid specifically came after the rallies in Charlottesville, Va. before the semester began.
With the topic of ‘white supremacy’ being prevalent in the headlines, Stutelberg used the pyramid as a way to help teach students about a theory that see oppression as both acts and unconscious biases or assumptions.
“The pyramid is one image that depicts a system of racism beyond men with torches marching and shouting racist slurs,” Stutelberg said. “I have heard from several students who told me that the pyramid helped them to think through the ideas and understand the concepts from class.”
Throughout the semester she encouraged students be open about their feelings of discomfort either in class or with her privately, reminding them that at some point they may feel uncomfortable and it was okay. At no point did a student voice any concerns with the selected readings or images that she used.
“Learning about diversity is often an uncomfortable process,” Stutelberg said. “I believe that all learning is, to some degree, uncomfortable when we learn we must determine how new knowledge might integrate or conflict with our existing beliefs.”
Despite the course being thrown into the middle of a political debate of liberal versus conservative, Stutelberg insists that there was no political rhetoric in the class. In her classes she does not focus on the ideologies of liberalism and conservatism, rather utilizes texts that helps the students to make real-world connections to daily events.
The anonymous student claimed that in the class it was “difficult to get through if you did not think like a liberal.” Stutelberg’s response to that claim is simple– it’s a diversity course.
“I teach theories of power, privilege and oppression that help students become more conscious and develop a deeper understanding of their own identities and the myriad cultures and backgrounds of the students in their future classrooms,” Stutelberg said.
Although receiving the publicity, Stutelberg does not plan to allow it to change the way she plans for her courses. She feels that not only do these teachings go along with the course objectives and student needs, but she knows she is not alone. Many different universities all across the nation use similar criteria in terms of teaching, whether it is a diversity class or not.
Though there is one thing she wishes she could change.
“I would have preferred that the student had come to me or another professor here at SU so that we could have addressed their concerns more directly and specifically,” Stutelberg said. “My first goal as a teacher is to build relationships of mutual trust and respect…that will remain my top priority.”
Dillon, the original reporter, defended her use of an anonymous source via email response saying that “she was able to verify the authenticity of the information they provided.” She added that she had been contacted by other students since publishing the article that felt the same and passed on The Flyer’s information to them if they wished to contact, but none have.
By CHASE GORSKI
Featured photo: Salisbury University image.