A furtive snapshot of a blurry projector screen revealed David Sorbello’s quiz to the world:
"?‘Female or Shemale’ can you tell?" was the title. Then came a series of head shots, and the sociology students were told to choose between the two options.
Instead, dozens of students at the State University of New York’s Geneseo campus have demanded that Sorbello be fired, and the school’s president has announced an investigation into last week’s quiz.
Sorbello, an adjunct lecturer, had earned a smattering of mostly positive online reviews from students in his time at Geneseo: clear instructions and snappy lectures that made his introduction-to-sociology classes fly by.
Wednesday’s topic was gender, sexuality and sexual identity, sophomore Jillian Sternberg told BuzzFeed.
Somehow, this led to the quiz Sorbello put up on the screen.
"We want you to write whether it’s female or she-male," Sternberg recalled him saying. The student told Buzzfeed that Sorbello then commented on each photo as the class evaluated it: "Like, ‘I’m definitely not going to the bar with you.’?"
Neither Sorbello nor administrators immediately replied to emails from the Washington Post seeking comment, so it’s unclear what the quiz’s purpose was supposed to be.
Sternberg told BuzzFeed that Sorbello didn’t explain it to the class, either, so some students walked up afterward and confronted him.
"He told me the lecture was ‘part humor and part to teach sexual dimorphism,’?" another student, Jessica Friedman, wrote on Facebook. "My professors have managed to teach me about sexual dimorphism without being discriminatory and transphobic."
The quiz bears the same name as a game that the drag queen RuPaul used to run on the show Drag Race. In that version of "female or shemale," contestants were shown close-ups of celebrities and told to decide whether they were a "biological woman" or "psychological woman," according to Slate.
But HuffPost reported that Drag Race canceled the segment in 2014 and apologized to viewers who considered the term "shemale" a transphobic slur.
Three years later in Geneseo, students spread a photo of Sorbello’s quiz far and wide across the internet.
More than 150 people have signed a petition on the school’s website to fire Sorbello, claiming he told the class that "this is a lesson to you all not to get drunk or you might take the wrong one home."
The president of the school, Denise Battles, promised on Friday to investigate and "determine if and what action is warranted."
"Let me say unequivocally that SUNY Geneseo has a steadfast and uncompromising commitment to diversity and inclusivity," she wrote in a statement. "We work diligently to sustain an inviting and supportive environment for people of all gender identities, gender expressions, sexual orientations, races, religions and other identities."
Gender issues have flared in classrooms across the United States this year, one in which the Trump administration rolled back federal protections for transgender students, banned transgender troops and nominated for federal judgeship a man who called trans children part of "Satan’s plan."