This past week, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student and teaching assistant named Stephanie McKellop was called “racist” for saying that she calls on her Black female students first. This came about after an October 16th tweet in which McKellop wrote:
Her account has since been made private, and the tweet has sparked an intense online debate, with some claiming that this tactic constitutes “reverse discrimination” against white students, especially white men.
What many of these tweets do not, address, however, is that McKellop’s initial post describes a common teaching method used by many educators called “progressive stacking,” which aims to equal the playing field for students whose voices have been historically marginalized or silenced in traditional classroom settings.
As Katie Mitchell, a writer and woman of color, noted in an essay for Bustle:
Progressive stacking in no way entails calling on students who haven’t volunteered, but instead serves as a way to foster inclusion among students who are attempting to participate. It’s also a way for educators to counter their own potential subconscious bias toward white students.
Twitter, of course, is not known for its ability to communicate nuance, so it’s not surprising that both McKellop’s method, as well as the intention behind the method, has been distorted. And at first, it seemed as though she was receiving a formal reprimand from university officials. After the initial uproar, McKellop tweeted,
A formal statement released by Steven Fluharty, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, stated 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. We are 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.”
We sincerely hope that the university takes a (non Twitter-like) approach to understanding McKellop’s initial comments, and that others take a moment to attempt to understand the benefits of progressive stacking before jumping to conclusions.