Should students care when a professor breastfeeds in class?
A mother and professor at American University, Adrienne Pine, never thought feeding her baby would make the headlines. “It wasn’t until some of my undergraduate students saw me feed my baby through my breast that my workplace became a hostile environment,” Pine wrote in the newsletter CounterPunch.
On the first day of her introductory course, “Sex, Gender Culture,” Pine brought her one-year-old and breastfed the child momentarily when she was hungry and restless. A news editor for the AU student paper, The Eagle, sent her an email afterwards asking for an interview on the breastfeeding episode in class.
“I was hoping to be able to talk to you in order to discuss what happened in class and allow you to speak about the matter in your own words,” the student wrote in the email. “I understand the delicacy of the matter and I do not want to make you feel uncomfortable, but for the story to have the most balanced angle it would be best to have your thoughts.”
Pine was surprised, to say the least, that her breast feeding incited an uncomfortable reaction from students on campus. “I really wish this weren’t considered “newsworthy,” but I suppose that’s why a feminist anthropology course is necessary at AU. I had no intention of making a political statement or shocking students,” Pine wrote to the AU student journalist. She published her reaction in an post titled “The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposeing My Breasts on the Internet.”
In the post, she added that her child was feverish that day. While she prefers to leave her family and professional lives in separate realms, she did not have a choice and expected her students to understand the circumstances.
If I considered feeding my child to be a “delicate” or sensitive act, I would not have done it in front of my students. Nor would I have spent the previous year doing it on buses, trains and airplanes; on busy sidewalks and nice restaurants; in television studios and while giving plenary lectures to large conferences. I admit those lectures haven’t always gone so well (baby can get fidgety), but as a single parent without help or excess income, my choice has been between sacrificing my professional life and slogging through it.
During the interview with the Eagle, the journalist asked Pine if she thought a classroom was “public or private space.” She also asked whether or not Pine considered the cultural implication of breastfeeding, and the potential reaction from foreign students in the class. “Exasperated, I skirted the issue of AU’s lack of class and racial diversity (in Washington DC, of all places) and tried to explain that in most other societies, people don’t have the kind of ridiculous Puritanical hangups that would turn a working woman breastfeeding into a newsworthy ‘incident,'” Pine wrote. After the interview, Pine requested that the article not be published.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Eagle , Zach Cohen, made the decision to run the story. “Rumors about the incident are already spreading through the student body, and we owe them an explanation of what really happened,” Cohen wrote to Pine in an email. She requested anonymity in the article.
“So here’s the story, internet: I fed my sick baby during feminist anthropology class without disrupting the lecture so as to not have to cancel the first day of class,” Pine wrote. “I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it. But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one.”
How would you react if a professor breastfed in class?