Florida art prof penalizes students for saying 'melting pot'

Amber Athey and Cabot Phillips
Investigative Reporter

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  • Students enrolled in Art Appreciation at the University of Florida risk losing credit on assignments if they use the phrase “melting pot” in class.
  • Professor Pamela Brekka explained that in her opinion, “melting pot” is a term that “signals a Euro-White Colonial standard, point blank, period.”
  • A former student claimed the restrictions impeded his learning, and that there is a distinct "left-wing bias" in Brekka's course.
  • Students enrolled in Art Appreciation at the University of Florida risk losing credit on assignments if they use the phrase “melting pot” in class.

    Professor Pamela Brekka told Campus Reform that she has reprimanded students for using the term in the past, and even withheld credit from those who used the phrase on assignments, because in her opinion, “melting pot” is a term that “signals a Euro-White Colonial standard, point blank, period.”

    “DO NOT EVER USE THE PHRASE ‘MELTING POT’ IN THIS CLASS. IN THIS CLASS WE CELEBRATE DIVERSITY, NOT SAMENESS.”   

    The course itself, entitled Art Appreciation: American Diversity and Global Arts, fulfills UF’s general education requirements for both the “Diversity” category, which requires three credits for graduation, and the “Humanities” category, which requires nine credits.

    The course syllabus, obtained by Campus Reform, describes the class as “an introduction to the visual arts from a global perspective with an emphasis on diversity in the United States,” adding that “to facilitate this process we will assimilate and use discipline[-]appropriate terms.”

    However, Brekka claims that “melting pot” is not a discipline-appropriate term.

    On several online course modules, through which students submit assignments, a statement reads, “DO NOT EVER USE THE PHRASE ‘MELTING POT’ IN THIS CLASS. IN THIS CLASS WE CELEBRATE DIVERSITY, NOT SAMENESS.”

    One student in the course, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Campus Reform that he noticed the warning and discussed it with friends who are also taking the course online for summer credit, reporting that “I haven’t been penalized personally because I kind of go with the flow, but I have talked to [a friend] and I’m pretty sure he has used some terms...and I think he has been penalized.”

    The student says being unable to use certain phrases “changes the way I learn,” and makes him feel compelled to “go with the biased system.”

    Brekka told Campus Reform that she doesn’t want students to use the phrase “melting pot” because it is not an accurate description of diversity in the United States, asserting that “the reason we put less emphasis on the way cultural groups are alike is because of the historical disadvantages minorities have had compared to the white majority.”

    She believes diversity in America can more accurately be described with a salad metaphor.

    “It’s the difference between a soup and a salad...in the salad, the flavors remain distinct,” she explained. “Your romaine lettuce retains its flavor, the tomatoes retain their flavor, and so on. They are all living happily in one bowl.”

    Brekka admitted that in past courses she would deduct a partial point if a student used “melting pot” in an assignment, although she also said it was not a “strict policy.”

    “This statement to students is not on the syllabus but rather in the introductory material for this class,” she elaborated. “This statement is not keyed to any assignment or any rubric. It is not my strict policy to deduct points for use of this term.”

    Campus Reform, however, obtained screenshots from multiple online assignments that include the warning against using the phrase “melting pot.”

    Brekka contends that banning students from using certain words or phrases “was never an attempt to suppress speech. I welcome open debate in all my classes.”

    When Campus Reform asked the anonymous student if he felt that Brekka’s rhetorical restrictions diminished his ability to express certain opinions, he responded, “Yes. And it’s not even just about the ‘melting pot’... it’s how she asks these questions a certain way so that we can only answer them a certain way.

    “There’s a left wing bias,” he continued. “If she said she doesn’t want people complaining because they can’t say certain things, she should have asked these questions in a more broad way so everyone can answer how they actually feel and not how she wants us to feel.”

    Screenshots show that the students in the course were required to respond to questions that asserted, “architectural design has been dominated by men in order to promote a social/political order dominated by men,” and “Native American art...reflect[s] the special history of Native Americans and their relationship with the dominant white authority.”

    Campus Reform also reached out the University of Florida for comment and spoke to Janine Sikes, Assistant Vice President of Media Relations and Public Affairs, who contended that Brekka “hasn’t spoken to anyone” regarding concerns about the banning of “melting pot” in the course.

    However, Brekka herself told Campus Reform that several students in the past have expressed concerns about not being able to use “melting pot,” adding that “they usually understand and don’t use it again after the explanation.”

    A diversity statement for the course, though, reveals that “melting pot” is far from the only locution that students must be wary of in Brekka’s class, providing an exhaustive list of demographic groups that students are expected to embrace because they contribute to diversity.

    “We in this class support and promote diversity in race, veteran status, parental status, marital status, socio-economic level, national origin, religious belief, physical ability, sexual orientation, gender, gender identification, cultural/ethnic identification, age, and political ideology,” the declaration asserts.

    According to the anonymous student, one category that the course overlooks completely is diversity of political ideology, on which matter they are simply expected to conform with Brekka’s positions.

    “It’s almost as if the questions, how they’re worded, you can only answer them this one certain left-wing way,” he ventured. “It was not a college level course...because we didn’t get a lot of the information.”

    Follow the authors of this article on Twitter: @amber_athey and @cabot_phillips



    Amber Athey and Cabot Phillips

    Amber Athey

    Investigative Reporter

    Amber Athey is an Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. She graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Government and Economics, and is currently a member of the 2016-2017 Koch Associate Program. 

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