Peggy Gish, a Fresno State public health and human sexuality lecturer, said the past few days have been very bizarre.
Gish, who has been teaching at the university for 25 years, made national and international headlines after a conservative blogger accused her of showing a pornographic, full-length film in her human sexuality class last week.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Gish said in response to the attention she’s received. “It’s been kind of tough just having to worry about certain things and be misrepresented — accused of something that wasn’t accurate.”
A student in Gish’s human sexuality course, a Fresno State senior who wished to remain anonymous, said he jokingly published a post to his Twitter account last Tuesday that said, “we watched a porn in class. lol awkward.”
UC Merced graduate and conservative blogger Oliver Darcy posted a blog entry about the tweet to the website CampusReform.org titled “Professor Shows Adult Film to Class.” In the blog entry, Darcy posted a description of the film, which according to an online summary discusses how to “increase sexual knowledge,” “increase pleasure,” and “heighten intimacy.” Darcy has no desire to watch the film, but said he has read summaries about it online that indicate the film is pornographic.
“I think if you were looking in a video store for that film, it would be in the adult film section,” Darcy said. “I don’t think you could dispute that it’s an adult film and that it isn’t pornographic in nature.”
Darcy also wrote in his blog that the anonymous student claimed the class was in shock when the film was played.
The student, however, said he wasn’t offended by the video and has apologized to Gish for publishing the post to his Twitter account.
“At first, we all seemed sort of awkward and laughed,” the student said about the class while the film was shown. “It wasn’t anything negative.”
Gish said that the “Advanced Sexual Techniques and Positions” video — which shows couples illustrating various sexual positions — was meant to educate students about relationships and communication. She said that her syllabus states that sexually explicit material will be shown in the course and that students have the opportunity to step out of the class if they are uncomfortable. She added that the textbook she uses in the course recommends the video.
“I welcome diversity of opinion and my students know that,” Gish said. “I’m not a rebel in any way, so I’m not pushing the envelope in terms of what I show.”
Other human sexuality courses throughout the state feature more explicit films, Gish said.
“I took the same class as a student here [in the 70s] and what I saw then was much more explicit, not pornographic,” she said.
She has been showing the film in the class for several years and said that students don’t often object to the film, although she did see a student walk out this year during the lecture that preceded the showing. She wasn’t sure if the student left because he was uncomfortable.
Melisa Sanders, a public health junior and a student in Gish’s human sexuality class, saw the film and thinks it was misrepresented in the media.
“It was purely educational and I feel like our teacher wouldn’t have made us watch it if it wasn’t pertaining to the curriculum,” Sanders said.
Dean of Fresno State’s College of Health and Human Services Andrew Hoff defended the course in a statement released to the online newspaper The Huffington Post. In the statement, Hoff said students are allowed to opt out of the course if they find content objectionable and that they can gain additional course content without having to watch the objectionable material.
Angry callers, some from as far as the East Coast, have left messages in Gish’s office phone, condemning her for allegedly showing porn to her students. A caller who identified himself as “William” left a message on Gish’s office phone in which he sarcastically commended her for her “extreme liberal beliefs.”
“It’s people like you that really help us conservatives by showing pornos to your students,” he said in the message. “This really gets the message across that people like you don’t need to be teaching in a public university or university whatsoever.”
Gish is unsure if she will show the video in the future due to the coverage it has received in the media.
“I love my job and would not take any chances of doing something that would put it in jeopardy,” she said. “But even more importantly, I wouldn’t do something that would be offensive to my students.”