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article imageOp-Ed: Professor nurses baby in class, but should this be the issue?

By Leigh Goessl     Sep 13, 2012 in Lifestyle
Washington - A debate has been sparked after a college professor at a Washington, D.C. university brought her sick baby daughter to class and at one point mid-class, nursed her.
What happened?
The American University professor found herself in a dilemma on the first day of classes for the fall semester. Her baby had woken up that morning with a fever. Adrienne Pine, who is a single mother, was concerned about child care options reported the Washington Post. Possibly too late to find a substitute, the alternatives were to bring her daughter with, or cancel the first day of class, which would negatively impact her chances for tenure.
Pine ended up bringing her daughter to her class of approximately 40 students; the subject being taught was "Sex, Gender & Culture." The baby crawled around the classroom, but became restless and hungry after a while, at which time Pine nursed her baby, although she continued her lecture to her students.
This event, which occurred on Aug. 28, subsequently sparked a debate. The debate seems to appear focused not on bringing her child to the class, but on the breastfeeding aspect of the professor's decision. The story gained publicity after a reporter from the American University's newspaper, The Eagle, heard of the breastfeeding during class and approached Pine to ask her several questions, of which Pine took issue.
Professor speaks out ─ on her terms
Uncertain as to whether or not the story would be published, Pine, concerned about her professional reputation, ended up penning her own version of the story in the form of an essay entitled, "The Dialectics of Breastfeeding on Campus: Exposéing My Breasts on the Internet."
In her essay she describes the situation and also includes all of the correspondence between herself and Eagle staff.
"To be honest, if there were an easy way I could feed my child without calling attention to my biological condition as a mother, which inevitably assumes primacy over my preferred public status as anthropologist, writer, professor, and solidarity worker, I would do so," Pine wrote in her essay. "But there is not."
University's response
The school appears to have phrased their response away from the breastfeeding aspect of the occurrence, and instead focuses on public health issues and legal requirements.
"AU supports faculty and staff as they face challenges of work life balance. The university follows federal and D.C. laws for nursing mothers, and provides for leave in the case of a sick child. In accordance with the law, AU provides for reasonable break times and a private area to express milk for a nursing child for up to one year from the child’s birth," (courtesy of Inside HigherEd - link also cites legal requirements).
“Every working parent can empathize with facing the choice of an important day at work when a child gets sick,” American University officials added in a follow-up statement. “Both demand your focus and attention. There is no easy or ideal alternative.”
What is the real issue?
So what is the real issue, is it bringing a child to one's job in the first place, or is it breastfeeding? It seems the latter is perhaps at focus, but should it be? The Washington Post piece noted some of the students interviewed after the occurrence said, "breastfeeding doesn't belong in the classroom".
Jake Carias, 18, a sophomore, told the Post, “I wasn’t too distracted initially,” he said. “We’re college students, things go on all the time. Whatever. We’ll survive.” He noted that he was "appalled" though, when his professor began nursing during class.
Leyla de Avila, 18, told the paper she sympathized with the childcare dilemma “I understand she could bring her baby to class,” she said. “Just don’t breast-feed in class.”
This leads the question, if the baby was a bottle-fed baby, would this have been more acceptable to students? Would the university paper have even seen a story with the baby coming to school if not for the breastfeeding aspect of it?
This writer is speculating, probably not. As ABA Journal pointed out in its recent article on the topic, "there have been objections to nursing moms discreetly breastfeeding in public even when their legal right to do so is expressly guaranteed by state law."
This past year, Digital Journal has published several stories about controversies that stemmed from breastfeeding objections, including breastfeeding in uniform, and mom responses to negative reactions to nursing in public spaces. And why do nursing mothers still face objection in the modern day?
At this time, The Eagle story has seemingly not been published, and staff editors are currently deciding if and when they will publish the story. Either way, the now-story is making headlines on the web.
The thing is though, the discussion shouldn't be centered about breastfeeding. If anything, it should be about the question of bringing a child to work. This is a dilemma every parent, especially single parents, have to face at one point of another. The real issue here isn't, or at least shouldn't be, breastfeeding in class or in any public space. The real subject should be the obstacles presented to and/or the options for parents in situations where children are sick and how they cope with trying to balance professionalism with being a parent.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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