Student objects to pornographic course materials

Professor says rejecting the material has "ramifications on academic freedom to discuss controversial issues."

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Supplied via Pexels

On Wednesday, Maria Shuster posted a video on Facebook — which was removed hours later — of her professor displaying pornography in class. While Shuster felt the explicit material was “uncomfortable,” her professor stands by the choice to include it.

The 300-level Gender Studies course, entitled “Masculinities: Cross Cultural Perspectives,” is taught by adjunct professor Reena Kukreja. According to the Gender Studies webpage, the course “considers the main themes in the history of masculinity and male sexuality, especially ‘dissident’ or subaltern masculinities internationally, and women’s roles in shaping ideologies of masculinity.”

In an interview with The Journal, Kukreja said the clip, which displayed a white man having sex with an Asian man, was “properly contextualized” and “didn’t come out of the blue.”

Kukreja’s Wednesday lesson was focused on how racial hierarchies within the gay masculine community often objectify certain racial groups. The clip was meant to show students how this racial othering is perpetuated by the adult entertainment industry.

“I did warn the students. I began by saying, ‘what you’re going to be watching is uncomfortable and it’s disturbing and if you feel like leaving feel free to do so and you can come back,’” Kukreja said. “It was not more than ten seconds.”

Kukreja added that the lesson plan was also available prior to and during class through lecture notes posted on OnQ.

However, Shuster, ArtSci ’18, told The Journal via email that despite being warned, she was discouraged from leaving due to the class size. “I think that because of the size of the classroom, if anyone chose to leave, they would be singled out, making the pressure to stay stronger.”

After showing the clip for a few seconds, Kurkreja said she scrolled down the webpage to show students some other clip titles, such as “white master, Asian slave.” Kukreja then led a class discussion focusing on the specific use of language in these titles.

“I talked about the descriptors rather than the porn itself,” Kukreja said. “When I showed the clip it was to talk about the abject racialized body of the Asian man and how that is brought on from colonial-era orientalist constructions.”

“It’s interesting how this is considered inappropriate and disturbing whereas the pervasiveness of colonial-era racism and violence, which has a continuing legacy in our everyday lives, is not brought up as a matter of concern,” she continued.

Department Head of Gender Studies Samantha King told The Journal that while pornographic material isn’t used “everyday” in class, it’s certainly not “unusual.”

“[Porn is] so embedded in our society,” King said. “This idea that pornography is somehow outside of student culture or outside of the University is false. It’s everywhere, you can’t escape it even if you want to.” 

Kukreja stands by her choice to include porn in her lessons, saying these “images have a visceral quality to convey more accurately what [she] was doing in class.”

King affirmed this point. “To me it’s very clear that this is part of a lecture on race and masculinity, and hierarchies in power, and that’s the point in showing this. If you don’t show the image, or you don’t discuss the material in its reality, then the students aren’t going to learn in the same way.”

Despite these reasonings, Shuster still says she felt “uncomfortable” watching pornography in a class setting. “I feel like pornography is something that should be viewed privately, if the person wishes to,” Shuster wrote. 

“I respect professors who challenge traditional ways of teaching, however I believe that there is a line, and this just begs the question of how far is too far,” Shuster continued.

In Shuster’s view, simply discussing “the concept of pornography in depth and power relations involved” would’ve been sufficient to her understanding. She acknowledged that this is her personal opinion, open to “discussion and interpretation.”

“I chose to post a video to [Facebook] as I believe that the student body should be able to discuss this. I believe that students should have a voice and that it is important to speak on controversial issues such as these,” Shuster wrote.

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