Adrienne Pine, a professor at American University, is in a bit of a tempest. On the first day of classes, the single mother’s baby had a fever and could not be brought to day care. So Pine brought the baby to class. As it happens, she teaches an anthropology class called “Sex, Gender, and Culture.” During the class, the baby got hungry, so she breast fed him. This started a bit of a campus brou-ha-ha, and Pine wrote a very detailed and (to my eyes) defensive description of her side of the story.
I have mixed feelings about this, but mostly I think Pine did the wrong thing.
Allow me to say at this point that I have absolutely zero problem with public breastfeeding. Allow me to say, too, that I am a professor and a mother of three. One of my kids has an unusual number of health problems. I have faced the choice Pine faced many times, and I am sympathetic to her situation. Professors can’t just call in a sub.
It is inappropriate to bring a baby to class. Whether you breastfeed or not. A baby is distracting, and if the baby gets fussy (as babies are wont to do), then that’s more of a distraction. The first priority should be creating an environment where students can learn.
So what should she have done? There are other options. She could have recorded a lecture and posted it online. This is what I usually do when I need to miss class. It was her first day of class, and I agree it’s not ideal for the first day of class, but neither is bringing a sick baby to the classroom. She could have posted some sort of interactive document (a Google doc, a blog post, what have you).
As for breastfeeding, I actually think this is much less of a big deal than bringing the baby to class at all. It’s really not a problem at all. But still, I probably wouldn’t do it. She claims she is not a “lactivist” in her screed, and looks down on such people. As such, if she brought the baby to class, and if the baby got hungry, and if she couldn’t pump, she could formula feed him just this once. Should people be distracted by breastfeeding? No. But they are, especially when they are 18 years old. Pine said she feeds her baby on public transportation all the time. That is just dandy, because people on public transportation are not required to focus on what she’s saying. It would be great if people didn’t care, but they do. And if you’re breastfeeding in front of them, your students are not paying attention. Again, I don’t think this is the major issue.
I am hesitant to accuse Pine of courting the controversy – the dilemma can happen to anyone. But I did find her screed off-putting, especially in her vitriol toward a female student reporter who wanted to write up the story for the campus paper.
The mitigating factor is that it was the first day of class, and you really really don’t want to start on the wrong foot by missing the first day of class. In this case, though, I think it would have been in the students’ interests to have done other than what Pine did. Would that there were more options for women.