An online post by a University of Pennsylvania teaching assistant noting that she calls on black women and people of color in class ahead of white people has sparked calls for her removal.
Stephanie McKellop, a Ph.D. student and teaching assistant for a history class titled “Sinners, Sex and Slaves: Race and Sex in Early America,” posted Oct. 16 on her personal Twitter account that “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.”
McKellop’s Twitter account has since been set to private, but numerous news outlets, including The Daily Pennsylvanian, have posted screenshots of her tweet. In later posts, according to the screenshots, McKellop said she had learned the strategy, intended to redress a lack of opportunities for non-whites to speak up in normal life, as an undergraduate student from a professor.
The posts sparked an almost immediate backlash, with some accusing McKellop of racial discrimination, while others – particularly in academia – rallied to support her position.
A Reddit post that called McKellop “racist” and called for her dismissal drew hundreds of responses. On Friday, InfoWars, a conspiracy site run by Alex Jones, posted a report on McKellop, calling her policy a “discriminatory practice.” The story also links to McKellop’s Facebook profile and encourages readers to “ask her if she supports open discrimination against white people in her classrooms.”
McKellop later posted on Twitter that university officials had told her not to attend lectures and canceled her classes. But a statement from the University of Pennsylvania said she had not been banned from class.
“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,” the statement read. “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.”
Others rallied to McKellop’s defense. Kate Needham, a Yale University graduate student, posted a letter she had written to the University of Pennsylvania on Twitter that said, “Stephanie’s internet presence is a lifeline for other queer, disabled, and low-income students in academia, and their tweet about recognizing students of color in the classroom enacts the kinds of real effort to improve diversity and access in higher education that universities like Penn frequently pay lip service to.”
Some outlets reported that McKellop prefers the pronoun “they,” but she told the The Daily Pennsylvanian that she prefers female pronouns.
Newsweek reported that professors and graduate students from Notre Dame, Auburn and the State University of New York also had sent letters to the university supporting McKellop.
Others condemned the attacks on McKellop as a campaign of harassment by fringe-right and “Nazi” trolls.