Last month a University of Pennsylvania teaching assistant came under fire for using a technique known as “progressive stacking” in her class — she would call on students of color first (black women get top priority), and at the very bottom of the pecking order were white men, who would be called on only if the TA “had to.”
The TA, UPenn grad student Stephanie McKellop, had bragged on Twitter about using the discussion method, and when the denunciations began to roll in she called critics “Nazis.” Penn officials looked into McKellop’s classroom strategies.
The whole brouhaha has upset Penn senior Miru Osuga who, in an op-ed in The Daily Pennsylvanian, argues that McKellop merely “recognizes this bias which stems from a historical legacy of privileging white people and voices, especially in academic spaces”:
After all, McKellop is just practicing equity in academia in its most tangible form. For teaching assistants, there is no effective diversity or equity training module. For professors, there is little accountability in not seeing the half-raised hands of students of color sitting at the back of a dimly lit auditorium. Sitting at the back because the pressures of society tell us we’re not enough. We’re not valued in this space. We don’t actually have anything to say that someone white couldn’t say better. Those pressures do not quiver at the threshold of this sanctum of knowledge.
Academia does not exist in a vacuum of the University; it is full of real people bringing their own real biases into this space.
What we need is comprehensive and effective teaching assistant, faculty, and staff diversity training. We need more diverse faculty members who are committed to uplifting historically marginalized voices. We need TAs who tally. We need to support more TAs like McKellop in their efforts to make the classroom a more equitable experience. …
I’d like more than just a glance of semi-acknowledgement in class. I want my whole class to hear my name invited into the mix of names of students who matter, the acknowledgement that I exist and that my participation too is valuable in this space.
Isn’t this the Ivy League, for Heaven’s sake? Aren’t Penn’s students and instructors supposed to be rather intelligent? If they actually need some sort of “comprehensive training” in order to facilitate “fair and equitable” classroom discussions, maybe they’re not as bright as they (and we) have been led to believe.