A Binghamton University sociology professor has recently come under fire for a policy in her course syllabus.

Ana Maria Candela, an assistant professor in the sociology department, wrote in the syllabus for her Sociology 100: Social Change: Intro to Sociology course that she would be practicing “progressive stacking,” a practice in which priority is given to marginalized groups, in her classroom. The syllabus stated that when calling on students in discussion, priority would be given to nonwhite students, women and to “shy and quiet” students who do not often raise their hands. The syllabus also said that students who were white, male or “privileged by the racial and gender structures of our society” would often be asked to hold off on questions or comments, in order to give priority to others.

“Our experience with this practice is that within little time, those who feel most privileged to speak begin to take the initiative to hold space for others who feel less comfortable speaking first, while those who tend to be more silenced in our society grow more comfortable speaking,” Candela wrote in the syllabus. “As you can imagine, it has tremendous benefits for our society as a whole when we learn to hold space and listen to others whose voices are typically disregarded and silenced.”

Candela has since removed the section from her syllabus, following a Title IX complaint filed by a student claiming gender discrimination. According to Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations at BU, this section of the syllabus was found to violate the University policy.

“The Faculty-Staff Handbook outlines principles of effective teaching, which include valuing and encouraging student feedback, encouraging appropriate faculty-student interaction and respecting the diverse talents and learning styles of students,” Yarosh wrote. “The syllabus statement you have brought to our attention clearly violates those principles.”

Donald Nieman, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, said he does not believe Candela intended to exclude students.

“Her intent, I believe, was to ensure that everyone participates,” Nieman wrote. “The way she stated her policy was ill-advised and led to an impression she did not intend. To her credit, she has adjusted her syllabus to more accurately reflect her actual practice.”

Candela said she was not obligated to remove the statement from her syllabus by the University, and was instead asked to put out a statement explaining the progressive stacking policy, which the University could distribute to concerned students and campus community members. Candela said the University has not yet released her statement of clarification.

According to an article by the New York Post, the syllabus was the subject of a Title IX discrimination complaint to BU filed by Sean Harrigan, a student in Candela’s class and a junior majoring in economics.

“It is concerning that a professor at a top public university would think prioritizing based on race and sex was an acceptable thing, even if it is against white males,” Harrigan wrote in an email.

Harrigan said he felt progressive stacking could be counterproductive.

“People do not realize white males have to deal with the opioid crisis, bad literacy rates, smaller number of scholarships, homicide, violence, suicide, job-related deaths, etc.,” Harrigan wrote. “I also come from an Irish family who was discriminated against and not even considered ‘white’ just a few decades ago. Other groups may have to deal with worse, but my point is that everyone has difficulties, some more than others, yes, but this does not mean we should treat each other differently because of how we were born.”

Candela explained her progressive stacking classroom policy, stating that she has used the practice, which originated from the Occupy movement, for years.

“When [progressive stacking] works really well, as I have seen in my classes during the last couple of years, students with greater privilege and power in the classroom learn to self-reflect on the ways in which they tend to hegemonize the conversation and learn to respectfully wait and give others priority,” Candela wrote. “This requires creating the conditions for self-reflection, and that means naming the structures of power at the beginning of the semester and on the syllabus so that when I ask students to hold off, over and over, they start to get it because they make the connection to the forms of power they might embody, frequently whiteness and/or masculinity.”

Candela’s online faculty page has since been removed in order to remove her contact information. According to Candela, hateful and threatening messages are also being received by the sociology department and the Latin American and Caribbean Studies (LACAS) department.

Several professors in BU’s sociology department have expressed support for Candela’s practice. William Martin, a professor of sociology, started a petition titled “Promote Inclusive Classrooms–SUNY-Binghamton”] in which he applauded Candela’s addition of progressive stacking.

“Our lives and education take place within and are reproduced by limited choices and experiences,” Martin wrote in the petition. “Many of our students all too often feel marginalized, and discussions are constrained and limited as a result. We should not pretend otherwise. Good teachers encourage students to engage and challenge these inequalities.”

Kelvin Santiago-Valles, a professor of sociology, also expressed dissatisfaction with how BU handled concerns with the syllabus, criticizing the vagueness of some policies in the Faculty-Staff Handbook.

“The wording in the [Faculty-Staff] Handbook is not as clear-cut as [BU] says it is, thus lending itself to the facile interpretation recently issued by the administration in the case of Prof. Candela,” Santiago-Valles wrote in an email. “More to the point, I think [BU] should take more seriously and more consistently the underlying principles of affirmative action as it might apply, by analogy, to Prof. Candela’s syllabus. All Prof. Candela did was translate policies favoring underprivileged groups in the allocation of resources or employment and apply that principle to the classroom setting.”

Gladys Jiménez-Muñoz, an associate professor and chair of the sociology department, also signed the petition and expressed support for Candela’s classroom policies, stating the policy offered a way to deal with social inequalities while students are reading about the same topics.

Students have expressed mixed sentiments on the issue. Elham Taher, a sophomore double-majoring in political science and chemistry who is in Candela’s class, wrote that students should be more open-minded on policies like progressive stacking that emphasize marginalized communities.

“I think it would do some good to some students are complaining about [progressive stacking] to maybe see if they can get their minds around the fact that we are shaped by our environment and experiences, which might explain why growing up as a white male in America, you might feel a sense of entitlement without thinking about whether you truly have any form of protection offered in this society by virtue of the way you were born,” Taher wrote in an email.

Some students in Candela’s class felt the policy would affect their participation grades. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, said they understood frustrations with the policy but support the message it aims to bring.

“Due to oppressive structures in our society, certain groups of people are more likely to feel confident in sharing their ideas in the classroom and it is important to make an effort to ensure that all students are being heard and given a fair chance to speak,” the student wrote. “I still do not think [Candela] should have included that paragraph in her syllabus especially since 20 percent of the class is graded by participation. Understandably this might have stressed out many students worried about getting a good grade in the class.”

Taher stated that in practice, however, Candela called on all students during lectures and had an online discussion platform that allowed for participation outside of the classroom.

“As for the policy itself, I didn’t even notice it in the syllabus but frankly it doesn’t matter,” Taher wrote. “Students can participate in lectures, which only a couple regularly do and so she actually calls on whoever raises their hand. They can participate in discussions and the best part is that they also get to participate in online discussions if they get socially anxious or need more time to reflect on the material.”

In Candela’s written statement, which has not yet been released by the University, she described multiple avenues of participation for students in addition to online discussion boards — including the presence of 20-person weekly discussion sections. Candela said each student that wants to participate in the class is given “ample opportunity” to do so.

Candela said the policy was motivated by inclusion, not exclusion.

“Progressive stacking as a practice aims to allow for greater incorporation of diverse voices and perspectives into the conversation,” an excerpt from the statement reads. “It is not, in any way, intended or used to deny anyone the right to speak on the basis of race, class or gender. Given concerns regarding the wording of the progressive stacking statement on the [Sociology 100: Social Change: Intro to Sociology] syllabus, I have removed it so as to ensure no one feels discriminated against as that is not at all what takes place in the classroom in practice.”

As discussions on the policy continue to take place, Harrigan wrote that he is content with the University’s response.

“My experience has been as expected for a sociology class in 2022, very political and not objective,” Harrigan wrote. “I am very satisfied with how the University handled it considering they did exactly what I asked them to do.”

Jiménez-Muñoz commented on hate emails and harmful comments made about Candela by email and by phone. She expressed her appreciation for Candela as a professor and for her efforts.

“Prof. Candela is one of the most admired faculty in our department for her support to our students, her commitment to their education and the high standards she set in her classroom and her teaching,” Jiménez-Muñoz wrote. “We, as a department, are lucky to have her as a colleague and friend.”