SUNY Geneseo professor under investigation over quiz

A SUNY Geneseo professor is under investigation by the school after a controversial quiz he gave students which some students said included offensive images and questions. (WHAM photo)

A SUNY Geneseo professor is under investigation by the school after a controversial quiz he gave students which some students said included offensive images and questions.

“It's a shock to me because I think Geneseo is a pretty welcoming place to people of all sexualities. It's not OK to demoralize someone for the way that they identify,” Kayla Tandy, a student at the college told 13 WHAM News Sunday.

Students said the professor also made derogatory comments towards the LGBTQ community.

Jillian Sternberg said the quiz was "Female or Shemale: Can You Tell?"

She took photos of it and said Professor David Sorbello has since sent an email telling students they can no longer take pictures of lecture slides.

Now there is a petition making its rounds asking the college to remove Sorbello from his position.

Wednesday, Sternberg said she prepared to take a quiz in her Intro to Sociology class, when she said Sorbello put up the slide.

“I get a wave of anger every time I see the picture,” Sternberg said.

In the quiz, Scorbello asked students to identify the gender of the faces.

“Show you faces, and you have to identify the gender. It was like, female, she-male,” Sternberg said.

“I figured I needed some sort of photo evidence because I don't know if people would just take my word for it,” she explained.

Sternberg said Sorbello went on to make inappropriate comments about the pictures.

Sternberg recalled Sorbello saying, 'Oh, I'm not going to the bar with you,' and 'this is a lesson to you guys not to get too drunk or you might go home with the wrong one.'

Sternberg says Sorbello noticed the students were uncomfortable.

After class, she told Sorbello the slideshow was offensive.

“He was very defensive, very defensive. He said it was partly for humor,” Sternberg explained.

Several students told 13WHAM his action does not represent Geneseo values.

“I just don't think a professor should be exposing students to that, especially like a male professor. Then male students are going to think that's OK, because it's a male figure,” Leliana McDermott, a transgender student advocate, added.

Kayla Tandy, another student, worries about the influence on freshmen.

“Who's sitting in sociology intro level class? Freshmen with minds that are still being shaped,” Tandy said. “They're still fresh out of high school and they're still probably being exposed to new things. Being someone of a minority in this school whether it's your sexuality or your race, can be an uncomfortable thing. When it's highlighted like that, why would anyone of a minority choose to come to Geneseo?

Some students are asking that the professor apologize at the next lecture.

We reached out to Sorbello. He has not responded for comment.

The school released a statement saying:

A situation that took place in a sociology classroom earlier this week has been brought to my attention and I felt the need to communicate to you about it, particularly as it pertains to our value of inclusivity.

A professor is reported to have presented materials and made comments about which some students have expressed concern. We are taking the matter very seriously and are gathering the facts to determine if and what action is warranted.

The classroom is an environment in which students and faculty can and should discuss challenging topics and ideas, which makes it all the more important that we gather and fully review the facts in this case.

As we review this situation, let me say unequivocally that SUNY Geneseo has a steadfast and uncompromising commitment to diversity and inclusivity. We work diligently to sustain an inviting and supportive environment for people of all gender identities, gender expressions, sexual orientations, races, religions and other identities.

I use this opportunity to remind you that our Interim Chief Diversity Officer robbie routenberg is available as a resource to the campus community. I would also encourage any students who have support needs to contact Lenny Sancilio, dean of students, and Dillon Federici, coordinator of LGBTQ Programs and Services.


Denise A. Battles

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