Campus Free Speech

This UPenn Teacher Justifies Her Refusal to Call on White Male Students: It's 'Progressive Stacking'

"I will always call on my Black women students first. Other POC get second tier priority. WW come next. And, if I have to, white men."


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Igor Mojzes / Dreamstime

No, this isn't a Clickhole story; if you're a white man in Stephanie McKellop's history class, you might be called out, but you probably won't be called on.

McKellop, a graduate instructor at the University of Pennsylvania who describes herself as a "queer disabled feminist," recently tweeted, "I will always call on my Black women students first. Other POC get second tier priority. WW [white women] come next. And, if I have to, white men." McKellop eventually deleted the tweet, but not before the internet immortalized it.

Bret Weinstein, the former Evergreen State College professor who was hounded by student-activists for criticizing their protest tactics, described McKellop's teaching method as "racism," and "vile." The usual conservative news sites have piled on.

Inside Higher Ed ran a news story suggesting that McKellop's teaching method isn't exactly discrimination—it's "progressive stacking," a widely accepted teaching tool:

Jessie Daniels, a professor of sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, said progressive stacking has been around at least since she was in graduate school in the 1990s. She still uses it informally, to right her own tendency to call on men more frequently than women.

"If I have a class of 40 students, since Hunter is predominantly young women, I may have four or five young men in class," Daniels said. "There's still implicit bias, where we value men's voices more than women's voices, or men's voices are deeper and carry more in a class. So I'm always trying to overcome my own bias to pick on men in class more than the women."

As to whether purposely asking a woman to answer a question over a man was a kind of discrimination, Daniels said, "That gets it the wrong way around. This is a way of dealing with discrimination that we as professors can introduce into the classroom. It's a good strategy, if you can do it."

It seems more like a way of practicing discrimination. Even if you think social inequalities make it impossible to be racist against white people, McKellop's contention that "other POC get second tier priority" is absurdly offensive on its own.

If professors have biases against marginalized students, they should strive to overcome them by calling on more students of color, and encouraging students of color to participate. If McKellop had simply said, I go out of my way to call on students who are less likely to participate, in order to make sure a more diverse range of students are receiving equal attention in class, there would be no problem. Instead, McKellop admitted to practicing active discrimination against students on the basis of their skin color.

McKellop has claimed her classes were cancelled for the week, she could be kicked out of her program, and the university is investigating her. Inside Higher Ed's sympathetic report was forced to concede that at least some of this isn't true: a spokesperson for the university said she has not been removed from her program. Administrators are indeed investigating the matter, however.

McKellop shouldn't be punished for expressing an opinion on Twitter. I'm no fan of lynch mobs against professors, and no one should ever be subjected to harassment or threats for saying the wrong thing—whether the "wrong thing" is politically correct or politically incorrect. But Penn has every right to make sure its instructors are not engaged in overt racial discrimination with respect to how they treat their students. Perhaps the dean of McKellop's department should remind her that she can't just ignore the white guys in her classroom.