UW-Madison professor apologizes for racially insensitive PowerPoint slide

UW-Madison professor apologizes for racially insensitive PowerPoint slide
A PowerPoint slide labeling a imagae of a black woman as "animals" sparks anger on campus

A University of Wisconsin-Madison professor has apologized after showing a picture in class on Monday that showed a black woman above the word “animals.”

The PowerPoint slide, part of a “Plants, Parasite, & People” class, sparked anger from students on social media. A student in the class posted the image on Twitter with the caption: “UW is definitely still #TheRealUW if y’all was confused.”

Professor Caitilyn Allen, who teaches the Plant pathology and Botany 123 class, acknowledged the fact that several students took offense to the slide.

“It was not my intent to offend, and I regret the impact this may have had on our community,” Allen said in a statement released to News 3.

Allen said she will no longer use the slide. She has taught the class since 1992. The image was shown during a class discussion on the Irish potato famine, caused by an oomycete organism. The rough tree-of-life diagram included images of bacteria, fungi, plants, animals and oomycetes. Allen said she attempted to use an image of an African woman farmer to illustrate the animal kingdom.

When a student asked why that image was chosen, Allen said she was trying to show more diversity in images used in science.

“I explained that too often, scientific images represent all humanity as a white male, and I wanted to give a more representative image, and especially to use a farmer because this class is about agriculture,” she said.

Allen has done research in Uganda and Guatemala, and said she respects and admires the women farmers in developing tropics.

A student addressed Allen about the image after the lecture and explained why she perceived the image to be offensive.

Allen addressed the upsetting nature of the image and apologized in a lecture Wednesday.

“I told my class that it was a mistake to use that image because in addition to my intended inclusive biological meaning, the image also communicated a negative social message. This was the idea that women of color are “animals” (in a derogatory, non-biological sense: less than human). I thanked her and regret this error. The image will be replaced in future version of this lecture. As I told the class this morning, I appreciate their feedback,” she said.

Meredith McGlone, the university’s director of news and media relations, said the university is aware of the tweet and contacted the student Tuesday.