Over the past few days, Binghamton University sociology professor Ana Maria Candela has come under fire for implementing what is called a “progressive stacking” model in her Sociology 100: Social Change: Introduction to Sociology course. This model would prioritize calling on nonwhite, female or generally shy students during class discussions. In Candela’s own words, this model “often involves asking those who feel more empowered to speak or those vested with more social power to hold off and wait a bit longer for their turn so that we can mix in the voices of other folks. ” Born out of the Occupy movement, progressive stacking works to amplify and uplift marginalized voices in a classroom environment, thus disrupting established power structures that often unfairly grant white, male students with the most power and respect among others.

In response to this syllabus, Sean Harrigan, a current junior majoring in economics who is enrolled in the course, filed a Title IX alleging the model discriminated based on gender. Soon enough, the controversy was picked up by a multitude of predominantly news sources slamming Candela and her “woke” classroom practices, from smaller outlets like Campus Reform to larger ones like Syracuse.com, Daily Mail and even Fox News, where Harrigan was interviewed just two days ago for the “Fox & Friends” program. According to Candela, Harrigan did not meet with her to discuss this policy after an email exchange discussing having a meeting.

These news articles state that Candela was forced to meet with BU administrators to discuss her syllabus, which Ryan Yarosh, the senior director of media and public relations at BU, claims has “clearly violated” Faculty-Staff Handbook guidelines on effective teaching. Yarosh did not specify which specific section of the handbook Candela is said to have violated. Ultimately, the section on progressive stacking was removed from the syllabus, but Candela ensures that no current students will be affected by this change in regard to credit and classwork.

The coverage in these news sources is undoubtedly one-sided, but it is also unethical. Time and time again, these sources reach out to Harrigan and Yarosh without including any quotes from Candela herself or other students enrolled in the course. These news outlets are quick to blast Candela’s headshot and teaching methods, yet cannot take the time to actually engage in the objective reporting and discussion they cry for. Candela was also asked by BU administrators to write a statement of clarification on the model that the University has still not published.

A Change.org petition was started by William Martin, another sociology professor at BU, to “celebrate and endorse” Candela and her equitable teaching methods. As of Wednesday, Feb. 23, the petition has over 500 signatures. Two additional sociology professors, Kelvin Santiago-Valles and Gladys Jiménez-Muñoz, also commented their reason for signing the petition. Both expressed their belief in examining and challenging the social inequalities Candela intended to target with this model. The Women’s Student Union at BU also released a three-page statement on Instagram, writing that the “complaint from this student illustrates the disconnect many white people have when it comes to race; when white privilege is challenged, some may immediately assume that what they are experiencing is oppression,” and that this is not the case.

While faculty are gathering to express support for their colleague, the University’s response to this issue is nothing short of shameful. Despite responding to plenty of news sources with the same futile paragraph referring to the Faculty-Staff Handbook, administration does nothing to support Candela at a time where she is being viciously attacked on a national scale in coverage that is far from fair and balanced. While Harrigan has voluntarily signed up for interviews, facial recognition and press, Candela has not. And yet, when you search Sean Harrigan’s name along with our school, it is Candela’s name and photo that show up.

It is worth noting that this is the second scandal regarding the same sociology course in one year. Last spring, former professor Joshua Price taught the same introductory sociology course as Candela does now. In this course, a student made a violently racist and sexist remark to his Black teaching assistant over Zoom while unmuted in his discussion class. BU President Harvey Stenger did not comment directly on these slurs, simply condemning “racist incidents” as antithetical to the campus community. However, the controversy escalated when Nicole Sirju-Johnson, the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) director and assistant vice president for diversity, wrote in an email that “Unfortunately, everyone has as much a right to be racist as they have a right to be culturally competent.” This then prompted the Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU) to call for her resignation. The administration jumped to Sirju-Johnson’s defense, and both chose to condemn Joshua Price and belittle Pipe Dream staff members for their reporting of these issues. The Editorial Board wrote on this ridiculous blame game that ensued here.

Similar to the present day, it was students and faculty who organized on behalf of the victim. The sociology department sponsored an Anti-Racist Town Hall, where Price rightfully pointed out that “Institutions are more upset with those who are upset with racism than racist actors.”

In responding to the news outlets who are desperate to denounce Candela’s character, Yarosh has made sure to claim that the Faculty-Staff Handbook advocates for effective teaching by “respecting the diverse talents and learning styles of students.” And yet, the University has never lived up to this claim. How can BU claim to respect diverse learning styles when every one of their hollow commitments to anti-racism has been overshadowed by their inevitable decision to hide behind supremacist and discriminatory acts of “free speech?”

Candela’s classroom structure is not about objectivity, it is about justice —both of which the University has yet to reach. If BU has shown us anything, it is that sociology courses are the exact place where progressive policies like Candela’s are needed to curb legacies of white supremacy and entitlement.

The Editorial Board supports progressive stacking. However, we also acknowledge the nuance behind it. In light of this controversy, there has been debate over whether or not the stacking model, though beneficial, should have been publicized on the syllabus in the first place. As Candela mentions, all good professors are already implementing a progressive stacking model in their classrooms, even if they aren’t mentioning it aloud. Members of the BU sociology department are right to point out that there is power in naming this practice and forcing students to confront the ideologies which favor the voices of certain students over others. On the other hand, nonwhite students may feel increased pressure when this practice is publicized — especially knowing how their white peers have negatively responded to it.

What many students don’t know is that despite worries about white students being ignored or missing out on participation points, Candela offers several avenues to participation credit aside from in-person discussion, including online discussion boards that everyone is encouraged to use. Even beyond that, current students enrolled in Candela’s course have said that every student who raises their hand in lecture is always called on. Never mind the fact that Candela never advocated for the ignorance of white students — she specifically stated that all conversations would circle back to privileged students in hopes of encouraging marginalized students to offer their thoughts as well.

It is safe to say that the ideology behind a progressive stacking model is productive and beneficial. While students and staff are right to continue discussing the best way in which to implement it, there should be no question of whether or not it should be practiced in the first place. Privileged students should be taught to critically evaluate the ways in which their social status may allot them more space, power or respect in traditional classroom environments. Subsequently, they should also learn how to hold space for those that have been historically overlooked or silenced.

Above all, we wish to extend our support and sympathy to Ana Maria Candela — a talented, hardworking professor who is dedicated to her students and this university. Although administration may not have your back, know that we do. Thank you for working to create a more inclusive, equitable classroom for us all.

Editor’s note: As of 2/24/2022 at 5:30 p.m., a sentence regarding whether Candela and Harrigan had a meeting was updated after receiving further information after publication. We changed the sentence wording to be more precise, denoting that a meeting hadn’t happened rather than a meeting not being attempted or discussed. This sentence was changed for clarity purposes.