A professor at American University gave her class, "Sex, Gender & Culture," a real world demonstration earlier this month, when she breast-fed her baby in front of her students. Her decision sparked a media frenzy, national debate and campus uproar, with the university questioning her judgment and students both for and against her decision.
Assistant anthropology professor Adrienne Pine awoke on the first day of class earlier this month to discover that her baby girl had a fever. Unable to take her to daycare and with no babysitter on hand, Pine chose to bring the sick child with her, as opposed to canceling her first lecture of the year. She later wrote that she felt like she "had little choice."
The baby crawled on the floor of the hall, according to her account, and at one point Pine removed a paper clip from the child's mouth and ushered her away from an electrical outlet. When the baby got restless, Pine decided to feed her, without pausing her lecture.
Paul Grobman, one of the 40 students in the class, told the student newspaper The Eagle that the feeding lasted "45 seconds at most." But some students thought their professor's behavior crossed a line.
"I found it unprofessional," 18-year-old Jake Carias told The Washington Post. "I was kind of appalled."
A student reporter got wind of the incident, and decided to investigate. Worried that the publicity would paint her negatively, Pine decided to pre-empt the coverage with her own online essay, "The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet."
In the piece, she wrote that she thought the whole thing had gone smoothly. And she didn't expect any reaction at a place like American University, a $49,500-a-year school that U.S. News & World Report ranked 77th in the nation, and which is an especially open and inclusive place (the student body president came out as a transgender woman last year). So when Pine received an email from a student reporter, she was "shocked and annoyed" that this was considered newsworthy, and thought that treating a woman breastfeeding her child as a bizarre and uncomfortable "incident" was "outrageously sexist."
Pine went on in her essay to mock the student reporter, and accuse the newspaper of having "a solidly anti-woman slant." She published the phone numbers of the reporter and the paper's editor-in-chief, although they were removed a day later at the university's request, reports The Eagle.
Pine later apologized to the students.
The university does not have an explicit policy about breast-feeding in the classroom, but under Washington, D.C. law, a woman has a right to breastfeed wherever she wants. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 extended protections for breastfeeding mothers, requiring workplaces to offer reasonable break time for feeding, and a private place in which to do it. Dollar General, Dillard's, Starbucks and McDonald's already have received citations for failure to comply.
But university officials questioned the wisdom of Pine's decision, given the health issues raised by the presence of the sick baby, as well as the general issue of appropriate conduct. In a statement on Tuesday, the university said that professors should take advantage of sick leave, break times and private areas, and "maintain a focus on professional responsibilities in the classroom."
"Every working parent can empathize with facing the choice of an important day at work when a child gets sick," officials added later that day. "... There is no easy alternative."
University officials were a little more pointed in response to Pine's blog post, saying in a statement that, "Freedom of expression comes with responsibility," and expressions outside school limits "have the potential to affect the educational relationship between faculty and students and effectiveness in the classroom."
As local TV stations descended on campus, a small group of students responded with an evening protest on Tuesday, reports The Eagle, chanting "Give it a rest, it's just a breast" and wielding signs saying "This is not news" and "Feeding your child is normal."
Pine is the latest in a series of recent "lactivist" incidents, which have mostly taken the form of mass nurse-ins anywhere from airline counters and Target outlets to the headquarters of ABC. But Pine claims she never thought she was fighting for the right to publicly lactate; she didn't think she needed to.
"I was not trying to make a point," Pine told a local Fox affiliate. "I was merely trying to feed a hungry baby the best way I know how."
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