Human Sexuality Professors Refuse to Change Transphobic Content

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Photo courtesy of Sharon McCutcheon / Unsplash

Alexandra Wishowski

Isla Vista Beat Reporter

Sociology 152A: The Sociology of Human Sexuality (SOC152A) is a popular lower-division course offered at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). Taught by married professors, John and Janice Baldwin, SOC152A aims to educate students on a variety of important and sensitive topics relating to sex, such as birth control and healthy relationships.

However, SOC152A has received several student complaints for using offensive and triggering terms when educating students about the transgender and gender non-conforming community. All complaints have been referred to the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD) at UCSB.

One of the many offenses reported includes the use of the word “transgendered” throughout the SOC152A study guide. According to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide, using the adjective “transgender” with the extra “-ed” suffix causes unnecessary confusion about transgender identities and its use is considered problematic. 

“Sex reassignment surgery,” is also highlighted by GLAAD as a term to avoid, with the preferred term being Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS). The Baldwins also include this in their study guide as one of the final stages of successfully transitioning. 

Additionally, the Baldwins choose to teach the incorrect claim that all transgender men are also heterosexual. Rachel Pollock, a third-year sociology major, explained that the information on the study guide is given directly to students during review sessions. 

“It was extremely binary,” said Pollock. “They talked a lot about how males versus females like sex, which made you feel weird if you didn’t fit into the behavior you were ‘supposed’ to do.”

The terms used by the Baldwins are largely considered problematic because they enforce the misconception that the defining step of the transitioning process is surgery and physical appearance, but not all trans people choose to medically transition. 

“One of the many offenses reported includes the use of the word “transgendered” throughout the SOC152A study guide. According to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide, using the adjective “transgender” with the extra “-ed” suffix causes unnecessary confusion about transgender identities and its use is considered problematic.”

This leads to transgender individuals being wrongfully perceived as deceptive for living as their authentic selves, which contributes to the high rate of violence experienced by the transgender community. 

In an interview with The Bottom Line, Craig Leets, Director of LGBT Resources at the RCSGD, explained why there has been little follow-up on student complaints received about the Baldwins’ classroom content. 

The Baldwins co-authored the textbook required for the class called “Discovering Human Sexuality,” meaning the professors have complete discretion to revise and change their course content. Despite complaints to the RCSGD, the Baldwins have chosen to continue teaching inaccurate information rather than listening to students who have felt uncomfortable or unwelcome in their classroom.

“Although I do not know if they have gone through formal channels, I have heard on-going complaints from students regarding SOC152A since I arrived at UCSB in the summer of 2018,” said Leets. “I was told when I arrived that advocacy had been occurring to change the content in that course for a while prior to my arrival.”

Analissa Nunez, a fourth-year sociology major, expressed her frustration with the Baldwins’ material for SOC152A after taking the class during the winter quarter of 2020: “The class is heavily heterosexuality focused and lacks a lot of information for LGBT students.”

“I know that they’re aware that students want them to focus on it, but they choose to ignore their requests,” Nunez continued. “It could be because of their age but that’s no excuse for not being able to transition your material to our current world.”

Additionally, Nunez mentioned the issue of triggering topics such as sexual assault also being taken too lightly in the course. 

Julie Winzelberg, a fourth-year communication major who also took SOC152A in winter quarter, described an instance in which an outdated video on the topic caused some students around her to become visibly upset. As students exited the class, Winzelberg stated that the Baldwins allegedly told students, “Remember, not all men are rapists.”

“I know that they’re aware that students want them to focus on it, but they choose to ignore their requests,” Nunez continued. “It could be because of their age but that’s no excuse for not being able to transition your material to our current world.”

“I was so appalled,” said Winzelberg. “That’s not even the point of what the lecture should be about and it’s also an awful thing to say about men.” 

A few options are available at UCSB for students who find course content discriminatory in regards to gender or sexual orientation. Students may report the course and its professors to the Office of Title IX or file a bias incident report. Another option includes talking to the appropriate department chair which oversees the course in question. 

Going through these entities may not result in any change because the Academic Freedom policy outlined in the Faculty Code of Conduct keeps professors like the Baldwins highly protected. 

“My understanding is that Academic Freedom provides protection to professors to decide to teach whatever content in their courses that they deem important to their curriculum,” stated Leets. 

The Baldwins are also able to ignore these student complaints because they are tenured faculty at UCSB. 

“Student evaluation feedback might be used in the process to grant tenure to a professor, so if they received a lot of negative feedback in student evaluations, a professor’s tenure process might be affected,” explained Leets. 

“Since the faculty of SOC152A are tenured, I do not think that negative student evaluation feedback has much, if any, impact on their continued teaching on campus.” 

Alexandra Wishowski
Alex Wishowski is a senior from Los Angeles, CA, pursuing a degree in Linguistics with minors in Applied Psychology and Spanish. She enjoys painting, astrology, Trader Joe's snacks, and taking care of her two cats.

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