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SUNY Geneseo rocked by transphobic teacher's quiz

by Shelby Toth - Copy Editor
Tue, Oct 31st 2017 10:00 pm

A sociology professor at the State University of New York at Geneseo has come into the national spotlight for a PowerPoint quiz he presented in his Introduction to Sociology class on Wednesday, Oct. 18.

David Sorbello, an adjunct lecturer at the college, presented a quiz entitled “Female or Shemale: can you tell?”, which required students to differentiate which headshots were “female” and which were “shemale,” according to The Washington Post. The professor was also reported to have made troubling comments throughout the presentation.

“Sorbello would make comments like ‘Ooh I wouldn’t want to go to the bar with you,’ gesturing toward one of the people on the screen,” junior at Geneseo Emily Andrews, who was in the class, said. “Several times throughout the quiz he said something along the lines of ‘This is a lesson to you that you shouldn’t get too drunk so you don’t bring home the wrong one.’”

According to The Washington Post, the topic of the class that day was on gender, sexuality and sexual identity. The lecture was, according to Sorbello, supposed to be “part humor and part to teach sexual dimorphism.”

Sorbella asked sophomore Jillian Sternberg, who was the student to take a picture of the presentation, to stay after class and discuss her phone usage during instruction, according to The Lamron, Geneseo’s student newspaper. She, in turn, asked senior Jessica Friedman to stay with her and talk to the professor about the “Female or Shemale” quiz. Sorbella asked a third student to stay behind as well, as a witness to the conversation that carried on for about an hour.

The students reported that Sorbella seemed he was “trying to dismiss” their feelings and that he was trying to teach “both sides” of the issue. 

“I don’t know what the other side to that even is,” Friedman said. “There’s no both sides to whether ‘shemale’ is an appropriate word to use or whether you should point out who is trans and who is not.” 

After Sorbello’s lack of response, the image taken by Sternberg circulated social media. Soon afterwards, Geneseo President Denise Battles sent an email to all students, faculty and staff.

“Let me say unequivocally that SUNY Geneseo has a steadfast and uncompromising commitment to diversity and inclusivity,” Battles said. “We work diligently to sustain an inviting and supportive environment for people of all gender identities, gender expressions, sexual orientations, races, religions and other identities.”

According to The Lamron, the issue is now going through an investigation styled after the SUNY Discrimination Complaint Procedure, which involves attaining a three-person panel of impartial fact-finders.

As the issue has reached national attention, it has shaken many on the local level. Geneseo alumnus Matthew Cook, class of 2016, is one such individual.

“The moment I arrived I felt a presence of community and inclusivity that I knewwould be hard to find anywhere else,” Cook said. “This incident is not reminiscent of the Geneseo that I have fallen in love with the four years that I have lived there.”

Cook also spoke for the effect this kind of presentation can have on transgender students. 

“My heart immediately went out to these people who may have regarded Geneseo as a place where they can truly be themselves and have around people who understand and love them,” Cook said. “This incident takes that security away from a group of people who need it more so than many others as they go through a no doubt difficult time in their lives. To hear that someone at my alma mater was attempting to strip that from these people was both shocking and disturbing.”

Problems of diversity issues on campus have become plentiful in classrooms all across the nation. The grievances are not being listened to, in many cases, which is what chief diversity officer at The College at Brockport, Cephas Archie, Ph.D. felt is a major motivation for stories such as this becoming public on such a large scale.

“When you respond accordingly to a student’s concerns, they may not become so escalated,” Archie said. “I would encourage all institutions to become more intentional in how they respond to student, faculty, and staff complaints that are brought to their attention.”

Archie also talked a bit about what would happen if this event had taken place at Brockport. He assured that Brockport have institutions to address such issues in a “timely manner”, such as the Bias Report System, which was established last academic year. This report system can be accessed online, and any student, faculty or staff member is able to go on the webpage and fill out the form, which is then immediately sent to a team to process, ensuring a quick response. At least one such incident has been reported this year.

When asked what we can do to prevent cases like this from happening again, Archie was concise.

“Education. Training. Communication. Collaborative engagement. So that we are constantly teaching and listening to what is and is not acceptable within our community. Period,” Archie said. “That’s an expectation that has to be echoed throughout all areas of our college.”

As of now, no official decision has been made on how best to handle Sorbello’s case. Students on campus have signed a petition calling for his removal from Geneseo. Due to the nature of the issue, the investigation process will be thorough, and could take some time before a decision is reached.

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