English professor Kenneth Fields Ph.D. ’67 will no longer train NATIVEAM 143A: American Indian Mythology, Legend and Lore after college students wrote a petition describing his teaching as culturally disrespectful, off-topic and riddled with sexual feedback and insensitive jokes. It is unconfirmed whether or not Fields made the choice or was requested to step down by the College. Fields has not responded to inquiries concerning the nature of the choice.
In response to former college students of the course — cross-listed in the English and American Studies departments — as an alternative of partaking with course content material, Fields would typically talk about particulars of his private life or subjects of no relevance to the course.
Describing a typical lecture, Emily Elliott ’22, who is Chinook, stated, “[Fields] would start on topic with the story, and then he would go on about another story and he’d talk about his friends and he would get into really inappropriate sex jokes or something like that, and then he would [tell a story about] a suicide.”
“Though Prof. Fields does not seem to have any ill intentions in teaching the class, lecture topics and discussions are often insensitive and inappropriate with regards to the discoursed native tribes,” states the petition, which has garnered greater than 30 signatures from college students spanning all undergraduate class years, in addition to coterm college students.
Fields fervently refuted what the petition claimed about his teaching type.
“I was horrified and wounded to read what was being said about the course and about me,” Fields wrote in a press release to The Daily. “I recognize very little of myself or of what happened in the course this fall in these charges.”
Fields most just lately taught the course, which is meant to discover the cultures of totally different Native tribes, in the autumn of 2018. Sha’teiohserí:io Patton ’22, who is Mohawk, authored the petition whereas enrolled in the course in Nov. 2018.
“I have taught the course in Native American Literature for nearly 50 years because I love it and respect it, and if I had not taught it, no one else would have,” Fields wrote in his e mail. “Some of the remarks were taken deeply out of context … some are total misunderstandings, whether deliberate or accidental, some I did not say at all.”
“It goes without saying that I will not be teaching this material again,” he added.
Patton stated that on Tuesday, Fields was learn the petition out loud in a gathering with the heads of the Native Studies program and English departments. Patton was not on the assembly and stated she was knowledgeable of it by Affiliate Dean and Director of the Native American Cultural Middle Karen Biestman.
Biestman didn’t reply to The Daily’s repeated requests for remark.
It stays unclear whether or not the course shall be renewed in future quarters. In accordance with the scholars behind the petition, Fields has declined to satisfy with them. Fields has not spoken to this particular declare.
College spokespeople and Chair of Native American Studies Teresa LaFromboise didn’t reply to questions on Fields’ conduct or the standing of the course.
On Friday, Faculty of Humanities and Sciences spokesperson Pleasure Leighton wrote in an e mail to The Daily, “The chair of the English department said she will reach out to the students and offer to meet with them to hear their concerns.”
As of Sunday night, English Division Chair Blakey Vermeule has not but responded to questions concerning the matter.
‘Disrespecting the culture’
By the second week of fall quarter, Fields started to make use of “really derogatory language,” Patton stated. “He started almost laughing at the stories in the novels we’re reading, which are sacred stories to a lot of the tribes.”
“The whole purpose of the class is to bring awareness to Native issues [and] Native culture, and [Fields’ teaching] is totally demoting that,” Patton stated. “It’s upsetting.”
As a result of the course depends on lectures in which Fields speaks alone, with out the enter of Natives, the petition reads, Fields’ misrepresentations of Native tradition go unchallenged. Additional, the petition states that Fields’ teaching creates faulty perceptions of Native tradition amongst non-Natives, and normalizes inappropriate and disrespectful discourse. Fields himself doesn’t descend from Native American ancestry.
Gabriella Guerra ’19, a scholar of Mexican descent who took Fields’ course final quarter, stated that whereas she tried to strategy the fabric with sensitivity as a non-Native, Fields didn’t appear to do the identical. Guerra, who agreed that his teaching was at occasions insensitive, profane and off-topic, stated Fields “talked about [course material] in a way that had a sense of ownership.”
“I don’t know how many people in this class are actually Native, and so I don’t know if what they’re learning or their impression of Native culture is all stemming from what Fields is saying,” Elliott stated. “Because if it is, then they have a completely wrong view of Native culture and stories.”
Typically, college students stated, Fields associated Native tales in ways in which felt exploitative. In lectures concerning the Night time Chant, a sacred Navajo or Diné ritual, Patton stated Fields’ teaching lacked the required sensitivity.
“You’re not supposed to discuss it at all if you’re not Diné, and you’re especially not supposed to discuss it before it snows in New Mexico,” Patton defined. Fields, she stated, mentioned the ritual with out mentioning the restrictions on how it may be mentioned.
Based on former NATIVEAM 143A college students, Diné college students at Stanford who didn’t take the course additionally raised considerations about it. Some have been involved that the Night time Chant ritual was being mentioned inappropriately and might deliver misfortune.
“I didn’t want to bring that type of bad spirituality to my family or to my people, and I thought that it was not really okay to almost force us to sit there,” Elliott stated. “We didn’t feel comfortable and we believed that it was going to harm us or that it was wrong; in [Diné] culture, it is wrong.”
When a Diné scholar approached Fields about his teaching of the ritual, Patton stated, Fields dismissed her.
“She approached him in class about the Night Chant, and he kind of mocked her and said, ‘Oh, what, are you afraid that the snow monsters are going to get you if we talk about it in class?’” Patton stated.
Even when Fields’ teaching was not explicitly insensitive, some college students took problem together with his angle towards Native cultures.
“In the way that he talks about [Natives], it’s … almost the old thought that they were illiterate and not as smart,” Elliott stated. “He just talked about them in general in a really undermining way.”
Within the course, Native college students typically really feel that their views have been undervalued, in accordance with former college students. Patton famous that, throughout one lecture about “Black Elk Speaks,” a novel about an Oglala Lakota drugs man, a Lakota scholar tried to broach a priority over the course in which class dialogue was headed, “and Professor Fields just kind of brushed it off.”
Elliott relayed an analogous incident about “Coyote Was Going There,” a set of tales from Native tribes together with her personal. Fields introduced the character Coyote as “almost a joke,” and the work as “almost a fairy tale,” Elliott stated.
“That was really hard for me because some of them were origin stories from my culture,” she added.
Fields has neither confirmed nor denied these allegations of cultural insensitivity.
‘Inappropriate’ sexual remarks
Professor Fields often used inappropriate language whereas teaching, referring to “dicks” and “whipping out” one’s penis, college students stated.
“It definitely made me feel uncomfortable,” Elliott stated.
She famous that sexual subjects did must be coated in the course because of the sexual nature of some tales, however she stated Fields’ dealing with of the fabric was inappropriate and uncomfortable.
“He’ll make up this whole other analogy about people having sex, and giving blowjobs, and porn, and prostitutes,” Patton stated. “He takes a story, and just kind of twists it into a whole new level of sexuality.”
Fields’ alleged feedback on sexuality have been typically degrading towards ladies. In a single lecture, Elliott stated, Fields “went on almost a sex-joke-type rant, and he was talking about how women were thirsting for men. He was joking about how they would do anything just to get it.”
His use of sexual language in the course reportedly turned a standard “joke” amongst college students.
“When we do talk about the class, it does come up a lot, like, ‘Oh, you’re not missing anything if you don’t go to class, because all he’s going to talk about is his penis, or other people’s penises,’” Patton stated. “That’s kind of our joke about the class. Every single class, it’ll come up.”
Fields didn’t converse to particular inquiries relating to these allegations of inappropriate sexual language.
‘No room for indigenous students’
Even when Fields’ lectures weren’t explicitly sexual, they have been “often off-topic and undermine the culturally rich material that he has assigned for reading,” the petition reads.
“He spent all of class discussing his own personal life and his problems,” Patton stated. In a single class, “he talked about cookies — just baking cookies; another class, he talked about making pickles — the whole class.”
“Maybe for five minutes, he’ll read out of the text, and once he finishes reading the text, he’ll go on to tell this personal anecdote,” she added.
Fields additionally handled subjects like alcohol abuse and suicide in a derogatory approach, college students stated. In a lecture meant to concentrate on “The Way to Rainy Mountain,” a textual content about Kiowa Native People, Fields diverted to an anecdote about an acquaintance who tried suicide by leaping off the Golden Gate Bridge. Fields allegedly referred to the suicide survivor with the nickname “Golden Gate Hank.”
Based on Patton, the survivor approached Fields and requested him to cease utilizing the moniker, however Fields didn’t, telling his class, “The motherfucker should have thought about it before he tried jumping off the Golden Gate.” Fields’ insistence on the time period seems to have been captured in a 2012 poem posted on-line.
“In my high school there was a lot of struggle with suicide,” Elliott stated. “I connected to that on a personal level and the way that he was talking about it in such an insensitive way and joking about it really, really made me feel horrible.”
Some college students reportedly started avoiding Fields’ courses in response to his teaching. After a few month of NATIVEAM 143A, Elliott stated, she and different college students “gave up” on the course and “stopped showing up to class.”
“We had all this context on his life experience, but there was no room for indigenous students to voice their particular background with the actual course content,” stated Caelin Marum ’21, who has Woodland Cree and Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation heritage.
Guerra stated Fields’ teaching of the course was reflective of a bigger concern with white anthropologists “parachuting into communities and documenting things they don’t understand without the input of the community itself.”
“Unfortunately this isn’t an unusual thing,” Guerra stated. “This is almost to be expected. You would hope classes like this wouldn’t be this way, but all too often they are.”
Fields didn’t touch upon particular inquiries relating to these elements of his teaching type.
Patton stated she took challenge with the course by week two of final fall quarter. When Fields’ conduct continued, she drafted a petition, with the help of different college students and one of her Resident Fellows at Muwekma-Tah-Ruk, Shoney Blake.
“[Upperclassmen] said that it was something they wanted for years,” Patton stated.
Marum stated she and different college students struggled with the course once they took it in the autumn of 2017.
“Last year we were too scared or didn’t know what resources were available to us to actually do something like [a petition],” Marum stated. “We felt tension with this class for a long time.”
Whereas the petition was titled “Requests to Improve” the course, Patton stated some of the signatories needed to name for Fields to be fired. Patton stated this determination ought to be left to the College administration.
Patton additionally stated that previous college students of Fields had raised casual verbal objections to the professor’s teaching to Fields and to a minimum of one administrator on campus. Patton was not sure of how these previous objections have been acquired, however stated they weren’t “taken as seriously” as she believes they need to have been, prompting her to create the petition.
“It’s important to make a stance that [Natives] are still here; we’re still a part of society,” Patton stated. “We are still here. We can still stand up for things.”
Contact Charlie Curnin at ccurnin ‘at’ stanford.edu and Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.
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