Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Former GSU Lecturer: I Was Fired for Intersex Guest Speaker

By Matthew Cardinale, News Editor, The Atlanta Progressive News (February 23, 2009)

(APN) ATLANTA - The following is a reprint of the press release distributed today by Matthew Cardinale, a former lecturer at Georgia State University and the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News:


ATLANTA - Former Georgia State University Lecturer, and current PhD student, Matthew Cardinale, today, February 23, 2009, filed an eight page complaint GSU Sociology Department Chair Donald Reitzes, and Lecturer and Teaching Director Mindy Stombler.

The full text of the complaint is available at http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/news/0431.html

The complaint alleges Reitzes and Stombler engaged in an unjust, unethical, and discriminatory effort to terminate Cardinale, because Cardinale was challenging textbook definitions and Stomber's curriculum practices regarding sex and gender. Specifically, Cardinale was attempting to promote awareness of intersex people in his Introduction to Sociology lesson plans.

"I was basically fired for teaching about intersex people in my Introduction to Sociology course this Summer against the wishes of Stombler. Stombler said she agreed with me that sex is socially constructed-in that we, as a society, have to define how many sexes there are, who gets to fit into each category, and how to handle the anomalies-but she said that it was too advanced for 101 students," Cardinale said.

"Because we do define sex and gender in any 101 class, I felt it was important to define those terms accurately and inclusively from the beginning," Cardinale said.

Last summer, an Atlanta Police Officer, Darlene Harris, came out as intersex, as reported in Southern Voice Magazine, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Atlanta Progressive News.

Cardinale had invited Harris to come in and speak to his class about her experiences as an intersex person, to help illustrate the social construction of sex. Unfortunately, afterward, Stombler took issue with Harris's guest lecture and said the Department would not support Cardinale's lesson plans.

In a written response to Stombler, Cardinale refused to take the material out of his lesson plans.

In a statement of support, Atlanta-based activist who is intersex, Caitlin Childs, said: "It is imperative that universities and colleges teach students accurate information about the social construction of both sex and gender, which includes accurate basic definitions of these terms.

"So much of the pain, stigma, and shame that myself and other intersex individuals go through could be avoided if more people were given basic education around these issues. Intersex conditions are not rare, it is estimated that 1 in 2000 children are born with obvious intersex conditions (this does not include many of us, like myself, that are diagnosed later in life.)," Childs said.

"Basic education and discussion of the existence of intersex people is an integral part of undoing the damage that has been done to intersex people specifically, and the damage the idea of binary and biological sex does to all of us," Childs said.

Cardinale is asking for a University review of the circumstances of his termination, and a review of the curriculum direction by Stombler, to ensure that our most basic sociological teachings about sex and gender are accurate and inclusive from the start.

"Thank you for allowing me to speak to your Sociology 101 class on July 17, 2008. I do believe that it is imperative that Professors like yourself give a platform to people like me for the purpose of teaching and facilitating dialogue. This is what education is about, not only to learn from a text book but to be able to bring the text book alive with real life experience," Officer Harris wrote in an email.

"I truly enjoyed your class and I do believe that they learned something and was empowered with knowledge about a subject that is starting to get national recognition. Although we as a society have a long way to go when it comes to acceptance of things not understood, the process must start somewhere. What better place to start then in the classroom with the minds that will lead us tomorrow, Harris wrote.

"I think that people are starting to realize that biologically people like myself are not freaks but that we are human beings that are just different. Then again who IS the same... No one is like the next person. That is what makes us uniquely different. It is amazing what happens around us when others are uncomfortable speaking about a topic that is not understood. Dialogue is encouraged to stop and everyone begins to act like silence is the answer when it really is the opposite. When you don't understand you ask, when the answers don't come, you seek and in the end you learn. Along with this education comes with a mental freedom and tolerance that makes this world a more tolerable and enjoyable place to be, to say the least," Harris wrote.

Incidentally, Stombler has been in the news in recent weeks for her sociological expertise in oral sex, which is being attacked by Republican legislators.

"To me, it is ironic that the exact same people-Stombler and Reitzes-who were involved in my termination are now, when up against a Republican legislature, portraying themselves as champions of free thought and critical thinking, especially when I know my experience as an instructor was just the opposite," Cardinale said.

"What it suggests is that even a Department which considers itself progressive in terms of sexuality studies, is still willing to marginalize intersex people through its 101 curriculum. Despite the fact it was my lifelong dream to teach, I would never sacrifice an oppressed group to the politics of silence," Cardinale said.

To be sure, Reitzes said at the time he was concerned about Cardinale's student feedback as well as his not accepting the advice of Stombler. However, Reitzes noted that the student feedback issue alone would not have led to termination. Therefore, it was Cardinale's not accepting the advice of Stombler regarding teaching about intersex people, that led to the termination.

The complaint has been submitted to President Mark Becker, Provost Ronald James Henry, and Dean Lauren Adamson of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

A previous article about intersex activist Darlene Harris is available at http://atlantaprogressivenews.com/news/0406.html

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News, and is reachable is matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.


  1. February 24, 2009

    I am a transgender and queer scholar within the Georgia State University Department of Sociology. I am also a Graduate Student Instructor, which is what Matthew Cardinale was during his time within the graduate program. (He was not a Lecturer as his press release reports.) I am writing to state that there is much more to this story than Mr. Cardinale reports.

    The professors that Cardinale charges with discrimination have both supported my research and teaching interests, which have challenged gender and sex binaries. Mindy Stombler has been my Master’s thesis chair, is my doctoral dissertation chair, and is a great friend and mentor to me. I have known her since 2002, and came to GSU because of her experience with research and teaching in gender and sexuality issues. In my research of graduate school programs, she was the only professor who was informed about trans issues. She actually assigned Bornstein's Gender Outlaw in her Sexuality and Society class. She is an ally of transgender, intersex, and queer communities. I can also vouch for Dr. Stombler’s support of examining intersex issues in the classroom. As her former Teaching Assistant, I know her support goes beyond simply using intersex as a way to illustrate a sociological theory.

    In addition, most of us in the sociology department teach extensively about intersex issues--in the substantive courses. I include the topic in all my courses. I have taught the upper-level sociology courses: Gender & Society, Sexuality & Society, and Queer Identities. In these classes, it's great to be able to get into depth on issues like transgender and intersex because we expect that students have already gotten "the basics" in their intro classes. If I were to teach an intro class, I could not get as depth into these issues because there is so much to cover in intro. Yes, I would include them in an intro discussion, but then would refer students to take the upper-level substantive courses (and outside reading) to give the necessary attention and context that these issues deserve. In my mind, it's inappropriate to extensively engage intro students on upper-level substantive gender, sex, and sexuality topics. These students have often not yet gotten the basic theory of social construction, let alone intro gender topics like socialization and stratification. With all the other topics included in an intro class (racism, poverty, war, environmental issues, etc.), it's unrealistic to expect to give much more than an overview of all these hugely important social issues. It's also unfair to students to cover the same issues in an intro class as they'd get in the upper-level classes. The latter are designed to get into these issues so that students can indeed "get it," which often takes time at GSU (as you see in Matthew's experience, where his students appeared to not get past basic misconceptions about biological imperatives). 101 courses are introductions to a wide range of sociological topics. The upper-level courses allow for the context and foundation so that students truly do "get it." In fact, in my gender classes, the most popular final paper topic is based on arguments against surgical intervention on intersexed youth. I see how impacted students are by examining this topic in depth. It takes weeks of material, not a day or two in intro class.

    It's unfortunate that Matthew had a bad experience, but there is much more to this story. For a Graduate Student Instructor to get taken out of the classroom, there have to be a lot of problems in the classroom, with the course design and the instructor. Every GSI undergoes extensive pedagogical training and ongoing evaluation. It is peculiar that one would claim to get fired for featuring an intersexed speaker within a climate where we are encouraged to include intersex issues in gender, sex, and sexuality curricula.
    Based on knowing about other aspects of Mr. Cardinale’s grad school experience, I believe he is acting out of bitterness. His letter is mean-spirited and highly skewed. I don't want to spend time disparaging him as he has done with my colleagues. But I hope you'll take the time to consider that there are other factors involved here. Please consider my alternate viewpoint and divergent experience in teaching and studying intersex at GSU.

    In solidarity,
    Elroi J. Windsor, M.A.
    Doctoral Candidate, Graduate Student Instructor
    Department of Sociology, Georgia State University

  2. To IntersexNews:
    Thank you for posting my press release and link to my complaint against Mindy Stombler and Donald Reitzes at Georgia State University.

    I am delighted to have had the opportunity to read the letter, purportedly by Elroi Windsor, MA.

    First, I am glad Windsor goes to great lengths to defend Stombler's policy of not allowing intersex issues to be taught in GSU's Introduction to Sociology courses. In doing so, Windsor implicitly admits to the public that that is indeed their policy.

    Windsor is entitled to her opinion, but I do not think it is too advanced to teach Intro students that sex is socially constructed. It does not take weeks and weeks; it can be done successfully during the lectures on social construction, and sex and gender. I found bringing in a guest speaker to be very helpful for this. Moreover, to not teach sex as a social construction in an intro class is to unethically teach a definition of sex that is inaccurate (ie, that it is biologically based). I think we need to look up to our University students; not look down on them.

    Second, I am glad Windsor is honest about being a "great" personal friend and mentor of Stombler, who is named in the complaint, so that readers can definitely take note of Windsor's bias.

    Third, I am glad Windsor has been able to teach about intersex issues in advanced courses at GSU. While that fact is fascinating, it does not remedy the problem of how GSU allows its instructors to teach intro courses.

    Finally, it is unfortunate Windsor has decided to use this forum to engage in innuendo about me (Specifically: "Based on knowing about other aspects of Mr. Cardinale’s grad school experience, I believe he is acting out of bitterness.") Windsor--who has met me once in passing and knows very little about me--should refrain from making baseless charges without backing them up.

    Thanks again,
    Matthew Cardinale, MA, MPA
    PhD student, GSU

  3. I am a visiting lecturer at Georgia State and I specialize in Gender and Sexuality. I also teach Intro to Social Problems and Introductory Sociology. I recently graduated with a PhD from Georgia State's Sociology program.

    I have never blogged before but I feel compelled to respond to some of the assertions made as I could not more adamantly disagree with the negative commentary. Frankly, I am blown away by Cardinale's "press release" (I thought it was an article he wrote himself but really that isn't what bothers me).

    I am OVERWHELMINGLY proud to have been mentored by Dr. Stombler and supported by both Dr. Stombler and Dr. Reitzes on various occasions.

    I teach “controversial” subjects all the time. While not everyone always agrees on the best way to convey information, or even what information should be conveyed, as long as I cover my material in a sociological manner—which I consistently do—I have never not received the backing of my department. Period. I am not saying that Cardinale did not cover his material as a sociologist. I have no way of knowing that as I am not privy to his teaching. I can only speak to my personal experience. My experience has been the polar opposite of what he described.

    Clearly teaching topics related to sexuality can be touchy (no pun intended). I should know - I cover it in all my classes. I feel as a sociologist and educator it is imperative that I constantly challenge our socially constructed realities and I do--almost daily. I have never been censored by any faculty or received any reprimands. Rather, I have received a teaching award, have high evaluations, and was hired on after graduation to be a Visiting Lecturer. Both Dr. Stombler and Dr. Reitzes have come to my defense whenever there have been issues—without fail.

    I want to mention that I JUST left my introductory course where I covered issues related to intersexuality. Clearly, I cannot cover it in the same manner I cover it in a sexuality class nor do I think I should as this is by definition an INTRODUCTION to sociology. While we all have our areas that we like to focus on, and I certainly am no different, my responsibility as an intro teacher, I believe, is to provide my students the tools and basics so they may have a solid foundation in sociology and have the tools should they desire to continue their sociological studies. I need to cover a wide spectrum of topics so they are adequately prepared for whatever direction they choose to go. I envy that Cardinale could even find that much time to dedicate to this one specific topic as I am clear in my intro class I could not.

    Again, I have never blogged before and I am about to go teach my second Introductory class of the day but I could not sit silently as people that I respect and admire keep getting attacked. I do not write this as a friend, or as a student, but as a person that has worked in a myriad of professional occupations for over 20 years and I can say openly and honestly that rarely have I been so impressed with a group of people and their professionalism as I am with those in the Sociology department—particularly Stombler and Reitzes the two currently under attack. It is my pleasure and honor to write this as they are certainly deserving of my support.
    I am sorry that Cardinale’s experience was so unpleasant. That saddens me. Truly. However, I truly hope the exception is not made into the rule for I know I am not alone in stating my support for this program and the people that represent it. NOW I MUST GO TEACH!

    Amy Palder, PhD
    Visiting Lecturer, GSU

  4. In my opinion Matthew Cardinale is being incredibly opportunistic to use a time when the department has been in the news to promote his personal agenda. He was asked to stop teaching quite some time ago. I am familiar with the exceptional pedagogy program in the sociology department at GSU. And I am pretty sure, you have to have at least two semesters of bad student evaluations to not be asked to teach again. Why doesn't Matthew show us his student evaluations?

  5. I am a Doctoral Candidate at GSU in the Family, Health, and Life Course specialty who has taught a number of introductory and advanced level courses in Sociology. During my tenure here, I have received outstanding mentorship and guidance from all of the faculty members in the department, especially Dr. Stombler and Dr. Reitzes. I am writing this letter as a student in the department, not as a close and personal friend, nor as an advisee of Dr. Stombler. Neither Dr. Stombler nor Dr. Reitzes are on my dissertation committee, but I have a vested interest in making sure that one person does not slander the reputation of this department. I am proud to be a doctoral student in a department that allows me a high level of academic freedom. I have more teaching experience and pedagogical mentorship than many of my contemporaries at similar institutions.

    In my Social Problems course (a similar course to Introductory Sociology) I discuss intersexuality and I have never been advised not to do so. In fact, I have never been told what I can or cannot cover in my course. However, I have been advised (and rightfully so) not to spend too much time on any topic that students can explore in greater detail and with greater benefit to their learning in an upper level course. I have also been encouraged to supplement the curriculum in areas where I find it lacking. For example, when I first started teaching I noticed that most social problems text books ignored issues related to disabilities. In order to address this, I found a suitable chapter on disability rights in a text that was of similar quality to the text used for the course and I dedicated a week of my syllabus to this topic. I planned this before the semester began and under advisement from my advisor as well as from Dr. Stombler. There are alternative ways of supplementing a curriculum without creating an atmosphere of highlighting one person or one topic. Did Matthew Cardinale use a single guest speaker when discussing the social construction of race? What academic support did Cardinale use in addition to the guest speaker? Was this a topic that was allotted specific time during the planning of the course or did he just decide to bring in a guest speaker because a student asked to know more? If a student wants to know more I would encourage them to find out more and possibly take an upper lever course where the complexities of sex and gender can be fully explored.

    While I am sad to learn that Matthew Cardinale did not have a pleasant experience with the teaching mentorship in the department, I do not think it is the standard or consensus in the department. And while this might just be “my opinion,” I am pretty sure that there are more GTAs in the department who share my opinion (and that of Windsor and Palder) than share Cardinale’s.

    Alexis A. Bender, M.A.
    Doctoral Candidate, Department of Sociology
    Georgia State University

  6. I think Elroi pretty much said it all. I don't know Matthew Cardinale, so I can't comment on his particular situation. But as a first year PhD student in the sociology program, I have found the department to be extremely supportive and open. It is hard for me to imagine any of the faculty members not getting excited about any research topic.

    Christina Barmon

  7. I too am a doctoral candidate and graduate student instructor at GSU. I have taught both intro level courses - Introduction to Sociology and Social Problems- and I have taught all three gender/sexuality upper level courses - Queer Identities, Sexuality and Society, and Sociology of Gender. I have covered intersexuality (and trans issues, and queer theory) in ALL of those classes. For Mr. Cardinale to suggest that he was removed from teaching because the Department does not support teaching about intersexuality is preposterous and irresponsible.

    Furthermore, Mr. Cardinale is misrepresenting his own status at the University and also his “firing.” He was not a Lecturer, but a graduate student assistant taking part in the teaching internship. There are many ways to fulfill funding requirements at GSU – as a research assistant, a teaching assistant, or as an instructor. Prior to being an instructor, you must complete a two-semester teaching internship where you learn not only pedagogical theory and techniques but also have a forum to develop your own teaching philosophy. Your first semester teaching is also considered part of the internship and includes extensive feedback from not only Dr. Stombler (the Director of Instruction) but also a graduate student teacher mentor. Your ability to continue teaching in the department is heavily based on your performance throughout this teacher internship experience. However, ongoing teaching commitments as a graduate student instructor are based primarily by both past performance and also by departmental need. Being able to teach is not a guaranteed right for all graduate students. Mr. Cardinale’s “press release” makes it appear as though he was fired for covering controversial topics. He was not “fired” at all – just not asked to continue to one possible path for graduate students – being a graduate student instructor. He was not removed from the program, nor, to my knowledge, did he lose funding.

    I do not want to continue reiterate the points made by other graduate students and alumni who have already spoken on the matter on this blog. In my experience at Georgia State as a Master’s and PhD student, as a former teaching associate, a teaching and research assistant, and as an award-winning graduate student instructor I can without question say that the climate at GSU generally, and promoted specifically by both Dr. Reitzes and Dr. Stombler, has been incredibly supportive for teaching and all topics relating to sex, gender, and sexuality. I hope Mr. Cardinale’s experience can be taken for what it is – the experience of one person, and not reflective of the department as a whole.

    Beth Cavalier, MA, Doctoral Candidate
    Georgia State University Department of Sociology

  8. First, let me reply to "Anonymous." I've been working on this complaint and planning to come forward since before the Republican attacks on GSU, so it's just an unfortunate coincidence.

    I am glad Anonymous also brought up the fact that students are usually given a second chance to teach if their evaluations are low, because that is a chance I did not receive. In fact, this was my first time teaching and my evaluations did not even come out until *after* I was fired.

    As noted in the complaint, it was not the evaluations that were the issue, and this was admitted by Reitzes. It was the issue of allegedly not following the advice of Stombler.

    I appreciate Amy Palder's note and "welcome to the blogosphere."

    Again, I am glad to learn that other lecturers are being allowed to teach about intersex issues in their classrooms.

    I hate to repeat myself--because all of this is in the published complaint--but I was not allowed to do so.

    The crux of the problem is this:
    -It would be unethical to teach a definition of sex that doesn't note that sex is socially constructed.

    -Students cannot be expected to grasp the social construction sex in a five minute discussion.

    -I brought in a guest speaker which took an additional 40 minutes on the sex and gender day (including discussion) to ensure the students were comfortable with the idea of the social construction of sex.

    -Stombler said she didn't want to me to have done that and she was angry I didn't follow her advice and she said "the Department won't support you" if I want to do it again in the future.

    Those are the facts. I can understand that some members of the Stombler clique have a difficult time grasping that someone who agrees that sex is a social construction wouldn't let me teach it in my course, but, as the song goes, that's just the way it is.

    My prediction for the future is that other graduate instructors will not encounter the same problems that I did, because the Department will want to protect itself from future complaints by instructors. If so, then I feel there will be a great benefit coming out of my complaint.

    In addition to generating the valuable dialogue on this blog and elsewhere, if Stombler changes her teaching direction practices in the future just to prove me wrong, then going public will have been worth it to me.

    Thank you again for your time.

  9. I am an assistant professor of Sociology, as well as a former graduate student of the GSU sociology program. And yes, Mr. Cardinale, I was a student of Drs. Stombler and Reitzes, as well as others. I believe you make some interesting points but I wonder about your intent. Surely, all communication between a mentor/advisor/professor and his/her student/intern/teaching assistant should be clear and maybe there was some trouble there. However, I feel that as a professor well past my first semester of teaching and someone who teaches about the issues of racism, nativism, sexism, heteronormativity, and the varying dimensions of "sex," that your complaints seem to ring of a person who is seeking vengeance for getting their feelings hurt. Or, it really smacks of a person who cannot take constructive criticism.

    More importantly, I think your long list of complaints speaks more to your inexperience as an instructor (actually it sounds as though you were a graduate teaching assistant). An inexperienced teacher, who is passionate about their discipline or cause, needs to do more than just "shock and awe" your students to understand or even support a cause. To be a true sociology professor (or any professor), we MUST weigh passion and reason, fact and fiction, and even whether our students, institution, and the community at-large can handle the very reality in which we live. No, I am not saying that we should never ruffle feathers but we must learn how to do it in a way that is scholarly and not as a talk show host might by introducing a Neo-Nazi Skinhead to a crowd of unsuspecting Jewish Americans.

    Now, before you get upset, let me justify with some points.

    First, welcome to the real world of academia and teaching. What many seasoned professors realize once they enter teaching is that his/her students and institutions are not at all liberal as we want them to be – not even close. As some have stated already, GSU is an institution that supports diversity and academic freedom. It is also an institution that has been the MOST liberal I have ever experienced. I have guest lectured and held positions in institutions in which discussing the various constructed forms of sex is devil-speak. Mike, I don't think you understand the fact that you are fortunate to even speak of intersexuality in a college setting, and that people like Dr. Stombler have made this possible for you to experience.

    You also stated that you were shocked that you could not find textbooks with this discussion, well, you should know that to sell textbooks, people cannot necessarily be too Nuevo and the topic you are discussing is new to the public. I still get shocked looks when we discuss deviant heterosexual acts, boy and girl parts (penis and vagina), as well as any mention of homosexuality (by the way, I'm not suggesting that intersexuality is the same as sexual orientation) outside of the fun versions shown through Will and Grace. Hell, I get yelled at by students and parents when I suggest that racism is alive and well, or the notion that capitalism is bad for most people. You have picked a discipline that is always, always, always, on the cutting edge and is ridiculed for bringing up society's ills or even differences.

    Thus, if you want to say there are lessons in this experience, I think your first is that this topic is SENSITIVE. Thus, it needs a special forum to begin its infiltration into college and even mainstream discourse. You can't just spring this kind of stuff on 18 year olds, who just came from a sheltered lifestyle, or who still believe that premarital sex will send you to hell. The department was right to tell you to slow your roll and consider that this topic be well-researched, well-planned, and even reserved for Professors who specialize in the topic, not brand-new graduate student teachers.

    Second, I have actually been in your shoes. As a budding race scholar, who is a White southern male, I thought I could do whatever it took to INTRODUCE my students to the reality of racism. Granted, I had plenty of textbooks and formal examples that suggested the mechanics and history of racism in America but it didn't cover the very heart of race relations for me in the college setting. So, one day I decided to host an impromptu debate about the N-word. Well, I was at GSU and my introductory course was at least ½ African American and ½ White. I decided in my infinite wisdom that I would use the word liberally throughout the debate. You could imagine the response. Many students were shocked and in fact, in my evaluations, a student called me out. Needless to say, I was pulled into Dr. Reitzes office to discuss why I was being "discriminatory towards African American students."

    Of course, Reitzes said never to use that term again because he wanted to protect a stupid white boy. For me, I thought he was just cramping my style, trying to make me tone it down even though I thought that the lecture on the n-word was current and spoke to the issue of racism today. Well, I could have just told the entire department to piss off but I found that after speaking with Dr. Stombler and other professors who have discussed the topic, that I could cover this issue but maybe I should do the work to prepare. Now, I'm not saying you didn't prepare but I found that after that semester, it took me a year to finally have the insight and know-how to present this subject and have an impact.

    Long story short, slow your roll. Yes, you may have some legitimate concerns but there is a reason why you are the graduate student and they are the professors. No, they are not always right and they need to have their horizons broadened too but they have survived the social and political climate you stumbled into as a newborn. Yes, you have experience with the topic. Yes, you may have connections to people to provide that first-hand experience. But, you are not acting like a professor when you don't go past the journalist approach of exposing the truth. In fact, did you ever think for a moment that what you did was disgusting? You paraded your invited guest in front of your students as a "freak show" performer. What if I brought in a homosexual man and said to the class, "hey guys, we haven't really talked about this in length or given you the scholarly explanation, but here's a homosexual to answer any questions you have about being gay!" You bet Dr. Reitzes or any academic administrator will pull you in for a little chat and have the right to suspend your right to teach.

    Based on the limited information I have from your posting, your dismissal seems to had nothing to do with who you are or the topic you covered – your lack of experience is key. You were an assistant or intern, not an instructor, which means you had to have instruction and guidance, not go willy-nilly into the night. Granted, in most universities, graduate students seldom get tutored on how to teach but at GSU, you actually had a chance to have people help you not make these same terrible mistakes that often have non-tenured professors FIRED!

    All the best,