For Adrienne Pine, a single mum and an assistant professor of anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C., the choice seemed clear. When her infant daughter woke up with a fever on August 28, the first day of Pine's class on Sex, Gender and Culture, Pine decided to bring her baby along.
Everything went smoothly for the first part of the 75-minute long lecture. Little Lee hung out happily for a while, strapped to her mom's back, crawling along on the floor by her feet, and being held and rocked by a teaching assistant, who insisted on helping even after Pine told her that babysitting wasn't part of the job description. But then the baby grew restless. Without stopping the lecture, Pine breastfed her child briefly, and the baby fell asleep.
The next day, Pine discovered that some of her students had complained, and she received an email from a student reporter at The Eagle, the school's newspaper, asking to "discuss what happened in class." What started out as a run-of-the mill working mom's dilemma has since mushroomed into a massive discussion about breastfeeding in the workplace.
Pine, who describes herself as a militant medical anthropologist, says that she wishes the incident wasn't considered "newsworthy." In an essay she posted this week on Counterpunch.org, she took the student reporter to task for "hounding" her, details their conversations and emails, and adds, "I had no intention of making a political statement or shocking students."
Pine did not respond to a request for an interview with Yahoo! Shine, and has declined to speak to other news outlets. The Eagle has not yet published their story, though several students have commented on the incident in the newspaper's "rants" section.
In her essay, Pine wrote that she has always tried to distance herself from lactivism, sees the benefits of both breast and bottle feeding, and doesn't think of breastfeeding as "a sacred or delicate feat." She breastfeeds her own child, she explained, "because it's a guaranteed food supply for my baby when I'm traveling, it's free, I can, and I hate cleaning bottles. … it has just been the easiest way (for me) to make sure the baby gets fed."
"If I considered feeding my child to be a "delicate" or sensitive act, I would not have done it in front of my students," Pine wrote. "Nor would I have spent the previous year doing it on buses, trains and airplanes; on busy sidewalks and nice restaurants; in television studios and while giving plenary lectures to large conferences." Pine, who has worked at American University for four years, says that the controversy has created a hostile working environment for her.
Some students were unfazed by the feeding. "She did what she had to do. She's a mother, and she needed to take care of her child," sophomore Nia McCarthy, who was in Pine's class that day, told WJLA-TV. "I don't think anyone was too distracted. She let us know that she was about to do it, so I wasn't too surprised. I think she handled it in the most professional way that she could."
Other students - male and female - disagreed.
"I feel like it was really unprofessional of her," Jeff Williams, a senior, told WJLA. "I feel like she should have at least stepped out of the room."
"I think what's inappropriate is that she brought her child to class in the first place," said sophomore Sarah Mireles. "It's very distracting to a lot of the students."
Officials at American University said that the school does not have an official policy about breast-feeding in class, but seemed to weigh in against Pine's decision to do so.
"A faculty member's conduct in the classroom must be professional," the university said in a statement on Tuesday. "Faculty may maintain a focus on professional responsibilities in the classroom by taking advantage of the options the university provides, including reasonable break times, private areas for nursing mothers to express milk, and leave in the case of a sick child."
"We're guided by federal and DC law, which do not prohibit or allow breast-feeding in certain environments," university spokeswoman Camille Lepre said in a second statement. "For the sake of the child and the public health of the campus community, when faced with the challenge of caring for a sick child in the case where backup childcare is not available, a faculty member should take earned leave and arrange for someone else to cover the class, not bring a sick child into the classroom."
In a country where female soldiers are reprimanded for breastfeeding while in uniform, is it fair to assume that breastfeeding at work - even a feminist anthropology class - would be OK?