After ‘insensitive’ course delisted by Native American Studies program, English department chair scheduled to meet students

Jan. 22, 2019, 1:45 a.m.

ENGLISH 43A: American Indian Mythology, Legend, and Lore will no longer be cross-listed as NATIVEAM 143A by the Native American Studies (NAS) program, and the chair of the English department will meet with former students of the course who wrote a petition alleging Professor Kenneth Fields’ teaching was culturally insensitive, often off-topic and included inappropriate language.

Fields informed The Daily last week that he would no longer teach ENGLISH 43A. He made the decision after he was read the petition at a meeting with the heads of the Native Studies program and English departments, Patton said.

Fields refuted students’ objections to his teaching.

“I recognize very little of myself or of what happened in the course this fall in these charges,” he wrote.

Sha’teiohserí:io Patton ’22, who is Mohawk, authored a petition asserting that Fields’ teaching was “often insensitive and inappropriate with regards to the discoursed native tribes.” Fields, she and other students said, regularly used sexually explicit language in class and in at least one case, mocked a suicide survivor.

Patton told The Daily that while she does not hold the English department accountable for Fields’ conduct, she anticipates an apology in her meeting with department chair Blakey Vermeule and other students behind the petition, which she believes will occur on Feb. 7. Vermeule confirmed the meeting but not the date in an email to The Daily.

“After reading the petition Native American Studies decided to discontinue cross-listing the course,” wrote Native American Studies (NAS) chair Teresa LaFromboise in an email to The Daily. She added that she had encouraged Fields to meet with the students behind the petition, which Fields declined to do, according to Patton.

The response to ENGLISH 43A “underscores the importance of student voice,” LaFromboise wrote. “We definitely need culturally respectful courses and more Native American faculty to teach them.”

Fields disputed the students’ claims about his teaching, writing in an email to The Daily that “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.”

Fields did not respond to inquiries seeking more information on what he did and did not do.

Additionally, Fields recently changed his Facebook profile, which now states that he “Worked” at Stanford. He did not respond to The Daily’s inquiries regarding his employment. In an email to The Daily, Vermeule noted that Fields would continue to teach his two scheduled courses this quarter, both of which are cross-listed in the English and American Studies departments.

“I cannot speak to the question of why he might have changed his Facebook status,” Vermeule added.

Native American Cultural Center (NACC) director Karen Biestman did not address The Daily’s inquiry regarding the meeting between Fields and the heads of the English department and Native American Studies program.

“NACC cares deeply that student voices are heard inside and outside of the classroom,” Biestman wrote in an email to The Daily. “We support any process moving forward that promotes conversation, understanding and healing, and [we] trust the faculty leaders involved to facilitate this.”

Patton said she is satisfied with the response to the petition. While she said she does not want to get involved in administrative decisions, Patton urged the University to examine Fields’ conduct in other courses.

“He did say a lot of inappropriate things that weren’t even related to Native cultures, and I’m sure that it’s going on in other courses as well that he teaches,” Patton said.


Contact Charlie Curnin at ccurnin ‘at’

This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Patton does not hold the English department accountable for Fields’ conduct, and anticipates an apology from the department. 

Charlie Curnin '22 is the editor-in-chief of The Stanford Daily. Contact him at eic 'at'

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