A series of tweets from a Penn history Ph.D. student and teaching assistant has divided public opinion and sparked conversation around teaching techniques intended to include all student populations in discussion.
Stephanie McKellop, who is a TA for the class, HIST-345: "Sinners, Sex and Slaves: Race and Sex In Early America," posted a tweet the evening of Monday, Oct. 16 on her personal account that read, "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."
Other news outlets have reported that McKellop uses they/them pronouns, but in a phone interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, she said she prefers she/her pronouns.
Online users of Twitter and imageboard website 4chan have spoken out both to support and to criticize McKellop for the tweets on her personal account.
By Tuesday afternoon, numerous other Twitter users were reacting to McKellop's tweets. Many of them, including users whom McKellop has described as "fringe-right," criticized McKellop and accused her of racial discrimination. Multiple users submitted news tips to The Daily Pennsylvanian and sent informal complaints to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, calling for her to be suspended.
Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Steven J. Fluharty said in a statement that Penn is "looking into the current matter involving a graduate student teaching assistant to ensure that our students were not subjected to discriminatory practices in the classroom and to ensure that all of our students feel heard and equally engaged."
However, he added that, "Contrary to some reports, the graduate student has not been removed from the program and we have and will continue to respect and protect the graduate student’s right to due process."
McKellop tweeted on Wednesday that Penn had asked her to not attend lecture and canceled her recitations for the week. An undergraduate student in McKellop's class who wished to remain anonymous confirmed that McKellop did not attend Wednesday's lecture or hold recitations this week.
McKellop declined requests for comment.
"If a professor said, 'I am calling on white men first and then going down to white women,' I don't think the University would have had any problem suspending that professor, making a statement condemning it and talking about our diversity inclusion," College and Wharton sophomore and Co-Director of Penn College Republicans editorial board Michael Moroz said. "The comment she made was discriminatory, and the University should take actions and fire her."
McKellop referred to her teaching method as progressive stacking, a technique that is used to give marginalized groups greater opportunities to speak.
Many Twitter users, including those from other universities, have also expressed their support of McKellop. Justin Cowart, a Ph.D. student in planetary sciences at Stony Brook University, distributed a template online so that Penn students could email professors in the History Department in support of her.
Cowart declined requests for comment.
A group of more than 20 graduate students and lecturers from the University of Sheffield also sent a letter in support of McKellop to professors in the Penn History Department.
Penn History professor Benjamin Nathans said graduate students are still "teachers in training" and they "are still learning the craft," but that McKellop's described method was not an acceptable teaching practice.
"Getting all members of a recitation or seminar to participate in a discussion is a laudable goal, but the method described in these tweets is totally unacceptable," Nathans wrote in an email. "To assume that you can tell which students need to be encouraged to speak solely on the basis of their gender or skin color is a grave mistake.”
The controversy around McKellop's tweets comes after Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher was placed on leave earlier this month after tweeting that the "narrative of white victimization" was behind the Las Vegas mass shooting.
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