American University assistant professor under fire for breastfeeding in class

A controversy is brewing at American University over whether it was inappropriate for an assistant professor to breastfeed her baby while lecturing a class.

It happened two weeks ago on the first day of a class called "Sex, Gender, and Culture."

Professor Adrienne Pine wrote on a blog that morning that her baby girl, Lee, had woken up with a fever. Pine wrote she couldn't take the baby to daycare sick, but she didn't want to cancel on the first day of class.

So she decided to bring the baby with her.

Pine wrote that during the class, "When Lee grew restless, I briefly fed her without stopping lecture, and much to my relief, she fell asleep."

Pine apparently didn't consider the public breast-feeding a big deal, but was contacted the next day by a reporter for American University's campus newspaper.

"I was shocked and annoyed that this would be considered newsworthy," Pine wrote on her blog.

She also said she felt her workplace, which had been "nothing but supportive", became "a hostile environment" after the breastfeeding thanks to inquiries from the student paper.

"I doubt anyone saw my nipple, because I’m pretty good at covering it," Pine wrote. "But if they did, they now know that I too, a university professor, like them, have nipples. Or at least that I have one."

"She did what she had to do. She's a mother, and she needed to take care of her child," said American sophomore Nia McCarthy, who was in the class when the breastfeeding happened.

"I don't think anyone was too distracted," McCarthy added. "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."

But some students ABC7 talked to didn't like the idea of a professor breastfeeding a baby while teaching.

"I feel like it was really unprofessional of her," said American senior Jeff Williams. "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."

American University sent a statement to ABC7. The statement read, in part:

"AU does not have a policy that specifically addresses breast-feeding. We're guided by federal and DC law, which do not prohibit or allow breast-feeding in certain environments."

The statement went on to say the school follows a law that requires it to give new mothers frequent breaks and private places to pump breast milk for their child to drink later.

The statement never expresses support or condemnation of what Pine did, but does say:

"AU does have a policy that provides leave when a child is sick....AU’s Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Policy provides the opportunity to take paid leave to care for the sick child and protect the health of the community."

In the statement, American said it disagreed with the blog post Pine wrote. It also said Pine had put personal contact information of students on the newspaper staff she disagreed with on the blog, and that Pine agreed to take the contact information down after the university asked her to.

"Freedom of expression comes with responsibility," the statement added.

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