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"Female or Shemale" slide sparks controversy at SUNY Geneseo

Oct 22, 2017

Credit Jasmine Cui Twitter

A SUNY Geneseo professor is at the center of a controversy regarding a presentation slide about transgender individuals he reportedly used in class.

The slide posted and shared on social media was titled "Female or Shemale? Can you tell?" and featured 16 photos of women. Sociology professor David Sorbello then allegedly asked students to label which women on screen were trans women.

Jasmine Cui, SUNY Geneseo sophomore, student senator and member of the diversity committee posted the photo to Twitter and Facebook. It was originally taken by Jillian Sternbergh who was in the sociology class the exercise took place.

Cui said this incident is concerning for a number of reasons.

"As a woman of color, I construed it as a teacher using identity as a punchline, a cheap laugh. And I thought of course this is objectifying, we're using someone as an object for humor."

Cui said that allegedly, Sorbello said he used the slide to help students so they didn’t get too drunk and go home with the "wrong one." Cui said this only further perpetuates trans panic.

"Meeting someone who is a trans women or a transgender individual and later, when they find out that the person didn’t have the biological components they were expecting, they panic and in some cases seriously injure or lethally injure the other individual."

Leliana McDermott is a transgender woman and sophomore at SUNY Geneseo; she said the exercise and the term used are both offensive.

"It’s an extremely derogatory term because it has been used in so many situations from cis-gender people trying to be offensive to transgender people that it’s a really bad slur."

The student government wouldn’t be taking decisive action just yet Cui said, but she hopes that President Denise Battles and the administrators will; and that they mandate sensitivity training of some kind.

“Students shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of doing the intellectual labor of explaining different topics that are pertinent to their identities to their educators."

Two online petitions regarding this incident have been started, one for Geneseo community members and one for SUNY Geneseo students.

Battles released a statement regarding the incident saying the school has “a steadfast and uncompromising commitment to diversity and inclusivity,” and that they are gathering the facts to determine “if and what action is warranted.”

She also encouraged students to reach out to the Interim Chief Diversity Officer and Coordinator of LGBTQ Programs and Services with any further concerns.