One of the ways in which a Spanish teacher at the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill teaches students the language is by using a provocative assignment called “the confession,” The College Fix has learned.
The Spanish 350 assignment in Dr. Michael “Raúl” Brown’s class asked students to confess some sort of pretend secret to loved ones, and suggested writing prompts included “if you’re Christian or of a Christian family, confess to be atheist” and “if you’re straight, confess to be gay.”
One student who took the “Advanced Conversation and Composition” class last fall told The College Fix they were offended by the assignment.
“I can’t tell you the level of discomfort that took over me as I wrote it,” the student said in an interview last month. “It still makes me cringe.”
The student ended up transferring out of the class, citing the assignment and other concerns with the course, and telling the department chair in an email obtained by The College Fix: “Yesterday, we were assigned to write an essay/letter to our parents pretending to be homosexual and essentially had to ‘come out’ to our parents in said fake letter. While there were other options for the essay given (pretending to tell your parents you’ve decided to be atheist, or pretending you are homosexual and telling your parents you were just confused for a period of time), I find this assignment extremely inappropriate and not relevant to the class whatsoever.”
(Pictured, Professor Brown – UNC website screenshot)
Professor Brown did not respond to a request for comment. UNC spokesman Jim Gregory, in a telephone interview with The College Fix, said he spoke to Brown and was told the assignment was meant to stretch students as they progressed in conversational Spanish.
“The point was to be something extreme, something that would challenge them,” Gregory said. “The point … was to pick an area that would make you uncomfortable — to force them to have to get out of their comfort zone and to have to write about something in Spanish that is more advanced.”
“It’s a challenging assignment, that is the pedagogy involved,” Gregory added. “College is about stretching your mind and being confronted with ideas you may be uncomfortable with.”
Spanish 350 is described on the university’s website as “an all-skills course designed to prepare students to speak spontaneously (in Spanish) about a wide variety of subjects, as well as improve their writing skills.”
According to a copy of the assignment obtained by The College Fix, “the confession” asked students to “write a letter in which you confess to someone important in your life a secret.”
The assignment continued:
There are many possibilities for the topic, but you should pick one that is opposite from your real identity; that’s to say that it should be something difficult because you will write the letter from the perspective of someone very different from yourself. You can NOT pick something more or less impossible to keep a secret (for example, your race).
Some examples include:
If you’re straight, confess to be gay.
If you’re Christian or of a Christian family, confess to be atheist.
If you’re a woman that watches pornography that is degrading to other women, confess your addiction.
If you’re gay, confess to be straight, mistaken for have lived a gay life and you’re now against homosexuality.
Gregory said those prompts were just options, and many students could and did choose other topics.
“He definitely uses different teaching techniques, but our review is that he has had some pretty good results with that,” Gregory said. “His classes are known not to be easy. A lot of students appreciate that and some don’t.”
Brown is a full-time lecturer who has taught at UNC Chapel Hill since 2005, Gregory said.
The “confession” is not the only controversial assignment Professor Brown has handed down. In the past he has also asked students to act out gay scenes from movies or plays. Some students have expressed discomfort in that as well, the anonymous student told The College Fix.
The College Fix withheld the identity of the student to protect their privacy on campus.
Gregory said that in a conversation he had with Brown the scholar confirmed he has chosen a play that involved homosexuality, but that he checks in with students to make sure they are comfortable with it before proceeding.
“He came across as very sensitive to ensuring the students were not stepping out of their comfort zones in that respect,” Gregory told The Fix.