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Students have raised concerns about an anthropology course on gender and sexuality. Credit: Rachel Zhang

Some students have raised concerns about an anthropology course on gender and sexuality, alleging that the professor made insensitive and transphobic remarks during classes.

In 2019, the Anthropology department determined that professor Theodore Schurr should no longer teach ANTH 1040: "Sex & Human Nature" after receiving complaints from students about offensive remarks he allegedly made in class, College first year Haydr Dutta said. But the course was taught by Schurr again in 2021 according to Penn Course Review, and it is being taught this semester — where students have continued to raise concerns.

Dutta, who is familiar with concerns regarding the course, said that students enrolled in the course have voiced their concerns to the LGBT Center, the Anthropology department, and the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies program.

Executive Director of Communications at the School of Arts and Sciences Loraine Terrell told The Daily Pennsylvanian that SAS "is aware of these student concerns but has no further comment at this time.”

Schurr, the Title IX office, and the Chair of the Anthropology department did not respond to the DP's request for comment.

The course, which double-counts to fulfill the College's Cultural Diversity in the U.S. foundational requirement and the Living World sector requirement, has nearly 190 students currently enrolled with a maximum enrollment of 200 students, according to Path@Penn.

Dutta and a College junior, who requested anonymity after citing fear of academic retaliation, said that a Title IX process had been conducted against Schurr when he taught the course in 2019. Following this process, the conclusion was reached that he would no longer teach the course. Schurr, however, is still teaching the course.

The College junior said that she has been in contact with the Title IX office about a complaint against the professor.

ANTH 1040 has not been cross-listed with the GSWS program since 2019. Associate Director of the GSWS Program Gwendolyn Beetham told the DP that the program's leaders felt the course did not meet the program's standards for teaching about gender and sexuality.

"We are not only concerned that we're in compliance with rules and regulations around gender and sexuality, but we actually want to have a space that is affirming to students who are transgender and who are gender expansive," Beetham said. "If we know that a course, or a space is not, then we try to work together with our students to address that."

Beetham said she wishes there was a more streamlined process for students to report course concerns throughout the University. 

Dutta said they had concerns regarding racist connotations in some of the course material discussing evolutionary psychology and biology. In addition to concerns regarding course material and explicit images presented, students raised specific concerns about class discussions regarding transgender people.

"Things were a little horrifying because [Schurr’s] definitions about being trans were basically all factually wrong," Dutta said.

Dutta added that they felt like Schurr did not appropriately handle transphobic comments from students.

Schurr used a picture of the actor Elliot Page, erroneously referred to him with she/her pronouns and his deadname, and Schurr continued to misgender other transgender celebrities presented in class, according to Dutta and the anonymous College junior, leading some students to walk out of the class in protest. 

The School of Arts and Sciences office has since allowed some students to withdraw from the course but receive a pass on their transcript instead, following their concerns, according to Dutta.

A College senior, who was granted anonymity after citing fear of academic retaliation, said that the initial reason they enrolled in the course was to fulfill the Living World sector requirement. However, they said they were surprised and uncomfortable by the way the course materials were taught.

“Once we really got to the topic of gender and sexuality, the conversation got pretty uncomfortable," the College senior said. "And not specifically because I'm not trans or non-binary or gender non-conforming, but mainly because of the language that was used surrounding these discussion topics."

Students said that the large number of students in the course made it difficult for students to speak up when they were uncomfortable with the content being taught. The anonymous College junior said that they believed there was substantial misinformation.

“It was hard to have the confidence to speak up just because of the style and style of this big lecture hall and also fear of peers,” the College junior said. "...There are things that he's presented to us in the past that I knew were false."

The anonymous College junior said that Schurr has been receptive to student comments, providing additional readings following questions.

Some students told the DP that they are concerned about the impact of this being the only material on gender or sexuality that students are exposed to at Penn since many enroll in the course to fulfill general education requirements. 

“A lot of people just take the class to fulfill the requirements, but they walk out with these wrong views about what being trans means,” Dutta said.