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An adjunct professor at a New York college has sparked outrage and calls for his firing after he gave his sociology class a “Female or Shemale” quiz, asking students to pick out trans women from a series of slides.
Students say the quiz given to a State University of New York at Geneseo class was “transphobic,” and included “inappropriate, discriminatory” language.
“Introduction to Sociology professor at SUNY Geneseo gave a quiz called “female or shemale” when teaching about trans. issues AND was quoted as saying: ‘so this is a lesson to you all not to get too drunk or you might take the wrong one home,’” student Jasmine Cuo wrote Friday on Facebook. “Let Geneseo know that this is NOT acceptable. People are NOT PROPS.”
In a statement Friday, SUNY Geneseo President Denise Battles wrote, “A professor is reported to have presented materials and made comments about which some students have expressed concern. … We are taking the matter very seriously and are gathering the facts to determine if and what action is warranted. The classroom is an environment in which students and faculty can and should discuss challenging topics and ideas, which makes it all the more important that we gather and fully review the facts in this case.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Sorbello Told a Student the Quiz Was Meant to Be ‘Part Humor & Part to Teach Sexual Dimorphism
The “Female or Shemale: Can You Tell?” quiz was given in professor David C. Sorbello’s Introduction to Sociology class at SUNY Geneseo on Wednesday, October 18, according to students. The quiz appears to have been taken from this website that has been around for several years.
Jasmine Cui, a Geneseo sophomore and member of the campus’ student diversity group, shared posts about the quiz on Facebook and Twitter on Friday. “Entertainment & social media are already rife with casual transphobia — to allow its proliferation in our education systems will only allow for its perpetuation. say it with me, PEOPLE ARE NOT PROPS,” she wrote on Twitter.” Cui said Geneseo’s sociology department, “needs to rethink its approach to teaching about trans issues.”
A student who was in the class, Jessica Friedman, wrote on Facebook, “he told me the lecture was “part humor and part to teach sexual dimorphism.” ….my professors have managed to teach me about sexual dimorphism without being discriminatory and transphobic 🤔.”
Jillian Sternberg, who is also one of Sorbello’s students, told BuzzFeed News she and others were disturbed by the classroom activity. She said the class discussion was on gender, sexuality and sexual identity.
“He just said, ‘We want you to write whether it’s female or she-male,” Sternberg told BuzzFeed. “He never said what the point of the quiz was during the class, but when I addressed him afterward he said it was partly for humor and partly to discuss sexual dimorphism.”
She said he also made offensive comments during the class.
“He said something along the lines of, ‘Be careful not to get too drunk or you’ll take the wrong one home,’” she told BuzzFeed. “He would comment on some of the pictures like, ‘I’m definitely not going to the bar with you.’”
Leliana McDermott, a trans woman and Geneseo sophomore, called the exercise and term used in the quiz are both offensive, telling WXXI News, “It’s an extremely derogatory term because it has been used in so many situations from cis-gender people trying to be offensive to transgender people that it’s a really bad slur.”
Cui, who is also a student senator, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, “There is an inherent power asymmetry in classrooms between students and their professors. If we cannot find a way to bridge this asymmetry in an ethical, effective manner, then students will continue to be at risk of having their individual rights abridged.”
2. After Photos of the Quiz Were Posted Online, Sorbello Reinforced His Ban on Phones & Other Technology
Sorbello has added to the controversy by responding to his students with an email reinforcing his policy banning phones and other technology from the classroom. “After students confronted Sorbello, he sent out an email banning the use of electronics in class. HE KNOWS HE’S IN THE WRONG,” student Jasmine Cui wrote on Twitter, along with a screenshot of the email, which you can see above.
In the email, which also reminded students that they do not have to attend their next class because of an online quiz, he shared the part of the syllabus on the “use of computers and other electronic devices”:
The use of computers (laptops, netbooks) is prohibited during class. All electronic devides including cellphones, iphones, psps, ipods, mp3s, etc., must be turned off and stowed in your backpacks or bags throughout the class session. Do not walk into the classroom with an active device. (If you are experience a family emergency and must be reachable, then notify me in advance of the situation and I will give you permission to have your cell phone on vibrate mode.) ABSOLUTELY no recordings (audio or video) or photos are allowed in class.
He also added a new rule, effective November 1, saying “Lecture slides will no longer be made available for taking pictures after class. In addition, there will be strict enforcement of my policy on electronic devices from here on out, UNLESS authorized by disabilities services. Zero tolerance. I apologize that at this time we are not able to integrate technology in the classroom.”
3. More Than 100 Students Have Signed a Letter & Petition Calling for Sorbello’s Firing
More than 100 students have signed a letter from the community posted on Google Drive.
“At SUNY Geneseo, we have always prided ourselves on finding strength through diversity. This is why it is especially disappointing that a member of our community, a member of Geneseo’s faculty, David Sorbello, thought it appropriate to conduct a classroom activity which included inappropriate, discriminatory language,” the Community Statement reads. “Eventually the instructor explained the exercise as both ‘for humor’ and to ‘teach sexual dimorphism;’ regardless, we find the manner in which he taught to be unethical and reprehensible – there are other, more appropriate ways of teaching this topic.”
The students called Sorbello’s actions “deeply” disturbing and said “an attack on any protected class is an attack on the entire campus community. This incident has created significant tension within Geneseo – let us ensure that this tension is creative rather than destructive.
“The school must respond in a way that yes, condemns hate, but also offers solutions which are more proactive than they are reactive. This is not the first time an incident like this has happened, but let us try and make it the last,” the statement reads.
More than 170 students have also signed a petition on the Geneseo Speaks website calling for the “immediate dismissal” of Sorbello:
This past week a Sociology professor named David Sorbello presented this (image below) to a Intro to Sociology class while speaking about transgender women/transgender individuals. Not only did he show a disgusting, transphobic, and inappropriate website “Shemale or Female” but he was also said to say “so this is a lesson to you all not to get to drunk or you might take the wrong one home”. Both of these actions are terrible and he should be held accountable for what he has done. Instead of apologizing to his students, he chose to instead take away any future lectures being posted online and to ban all electronic devices in his classroom. His reaction is neither acceptable or appropriate for a person of his level of education and status within the college. I personally feel that it would be a mistake for SUNY Geneseo to keep this professor for employment in the future.
In a statement posted on the petition, the Student Association said it is “aware of and actively working on” a response:
In regards to the situation that took place in a sociology classroom earlier this week: at this time, the Student Association does not have additional information beyond what the college has disclosed. However, we can assure students that inclusivity is a primary value of the Student Association, as well as of the college. The Student Association does not tolerate acts of transphobia or other acts of intolerance, and as student representatives, the Student Association Executive Committee will uphold our commitment to our students by gathering and distributing information as it becomes available to us. We are confident that this situation will be handled appropriately and justly, and will do what we can to advocate for the concerns students have regarding this situation.
SUNY Geneseo President Denise Battles issued a statement on Friday, saying, “A situation that took place in a sociology classroom earlier this week has been brought to my attention and I felt the need to communicate to you about it, particularly as it pertains to our value of inclusivity.”
Battles added in her statement:
As we review this situation, let me say unequivocally that SUNY Geneseo has a steadfast and uncompromising commitment to diversity and inclusivity. 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.
I use this opportunity to remind you that our Interim Chief Diversity Officer robbie routenberg is available as a resource to the campus community. I would also encourage any students who have support needs to contact Lenny Sancilio, dean of students, and Dillon Federici, coordinator of LGBTQ Programs and Services.
4. Sorbello Has Been an Instructor at SUNY Geneseo Since Spring 2017
David C. Sorbello has been an instructor at SUNY Geneseo since the Spring 2017 semester, according to the school’s website. Sorbello taught three classes that semester: Introduction to Sociology, Inequality, Class & Poverty and Sociology of Sports. He also taught two classes during the summer session (Introduction to Cultural Anthropology and Ethnography: Magic & Religion) and is teaching three classes during the current Fall semester, including two Introduction to Sociology courses and Urban Sociology. Sorbello is not currently scheduled to teach any classes in Spring 2018, according to the school’s website.
The class where the quiz was given was Introduction to Sociology. You can read his syllabus for the course above.
“This course is a basic introduction to sociology and key sociological principles. Using personal and every-day life expericnes, we will discuss how we are all products – and producers – of society. We will use real observations from projects outside of class as important components of understanding social forces,” Sorbello wrote. “Students completing this course will have a well-balanced and critical base from which to have a sociological understanding of society.
“Together we will try to understand the impact taht variables such as gender, family, race, language, culture, belief, economics, social class, education and social institutions such as government and even media/technology have upon people’s relationships and behaviors. Through this journey we will also develop an awareness of both the benefits and the limits of sociology in helping to make better communities,” he wrote.
In his class policies section, he writes about “conduct/civility”:
I expect an atmosphere of mutual respect, regardless of the topics being discussed or the differences of opinion that might exit. This is, after all, the point of higher education – to develop critical thinking skills and become more open to new ideas, even when we may not necessarily agree with them. SUNY Geneseo is committed to civility in and out of the classroom. Everyone has the right to an environment that is conducive to learning. With that commitment in mind, conduct in the classroom is governed by the Student Code of Conduct which may be found in the Student Handbook and online. SUNY Geneseo chooses respect for all individuals and classroom disruptions will not be tolerated.
His final rule, is “have fun.” He wrote, “Interacting with peers, colleagues and professors is the fun part of university learning. Relax, speak your mind, open your mind and do not be afraid to laugh (or cry).”
Sorbello has mostly positive reviews on RateMyProfessor.com.
“He sometimes would use scare tactics in order to get us to study, however he owned the fact that he did that,” one student wrote in April 2017. “The class was interesting and discussion-based, and he knew all of the students name and would have personal conversations with you when you came into class, making it a more comfortable and easy going environment. Overall good prof.”
Another wrote in May 2017, “Soc 100 with Sorbello is awesome. Lectures never felt like 2 and a half hours (often let out early) and he makes it very clear what he expects of us from day 1. The textbook readings are a must but overall highly recommend!”
On October 19, a student wrote, “Dr. S is one of the most caring people I’ve ever met. He’s accessible outside of class always and is willing to help. Most of his tests are based on the textbook which follow his lectures accurately. If you study the terms in the book you should get a good grade. There are 3 papers throughout the term, a midterm, final and 2 quizzes.”
That same day, another wrote, “Dr. S deserves at least a 4.5. He is very clear from the beginning about what he wants, and as long as you follow those guidelines you will be just fine. The lectures go by really fast. 3 papers, online quizzes, midterm, and final. You don’t even have to participate much if you don’t want to, but the conversations are fun. He’s super funny too.”
Sorbello has also taught at SUNY Oswego, Syracuse University and Mohawk Valley Community College.
5. He Completed His Ph.D in Sociology at Syracuse in 2006
Sorbello completed his Ph.D in sociology at Syracuse University in 2006, according to the school’s website. His dissertation was titled, “A case study of academics and athletics: Players on a two-year college ice hockey team.”
Sorbello wrote in the abstract, “American collegiate athletes often receive conflicting messages regarding the importance of academics and athletics. For most hockey players who attend two-year colleges, their performance, both on the ice and in the classroom, is paramount for their future successes. This case study seeks to understand the parallel systemic environments of academics and athletics, viewing both as domains of cultural symbolism and vehicles for role engulfment that the student athlete must successfully navigate.”
In-depth interviews were conducted with forty-eight study participants during the 2003-2004 school year and hockey season. In an effort to provide a deeper understanding of the total experience, additional means of data collection were employed, including key informant interviews, a review of student records, field observations, and content analysis of campus and local newspapers.
Success for these particular players is dependent on multiple variables, such as prior academic and athletic experiences, personal maturity, and ambition. The findings of this study reinforce some general themes reported by previous scholars in terms of role engulfment and academic performance. The study also provides new insights into being a student athlete and gives voice to members of a subculture not yet represented in the literature.
The two-year college ultimately became more of a destination than a last resort for the participants in this study, who are talented on the ice but often experience difficulties in the classroom. Since student athletes have unique needs on any given campus, suggestions and recommendations for aiding these students succeed academically are provided for future researchers and college officials.
Sorbello, 47, is a New York native. He did not respond to requests for comment from Heavy, including an email to his school address and a phone call to a number listed for his Camillus, New York, home.