We’re all wearily familiar with the stress of finishing a college assignment. The forever looming and then rapidly approaching deadline, the adrenaline rush when you’re down to the last few crucial hours, and the bliss of it all being over — until the next assignment, which is inevitably given about a day later. These are all part and parcel of the average college task or project. Assignments, depending on your field, can cover an incredibly wide range of topics, and often prove invaluable to a student’s deeper understanding of a particular subject. Generally, assignments and exams make up the largest part of a student’s assessment at university and they reliably demonstrate how far your level of expertise has developed.
As a rule, the worst case scenario as regards assignments is having to undertake a boring one. Occasionally, however, assignments are given that are unusual, upsetting or even downright inappropriate. This article lists five such shocking assignments set by various departments at numerous universities. These assignments address the issues of religion, sexual activity and suicide, amongst other equally delicate topics.
5. The “Stomp on Jesus” assignment
In March 2013, a lecturer at the Florida Atlantic University attracted attention with a controversial assignment designed to illustrate the impact of words. As part of his class, the professor in question — Deandre Poole — asked students in his Intercultural Communications class to write the word ‘Jesus’ on a piece of paper, then throw it on the ground and stamp on it. This idea was not a brainwave of Poole’s; he was following a plan for a lesson on the impact of words outlined in the guide to the class textbook, written by a professor at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin.
The potentially offensive assignment drew nationwide attention when a student in the class reported it to local media. Florida Atlantic University subsequently publicly apologised for the use of the method, and said that it wouldn’t be used as an assignment again. Professor Poole faced numerous death threats and racial slurs from the university campus at large, some of which were received via his private phone number and his email. Such was the level of vitriol that the University put Poole on paid leave for a time, to avoid his personal safety being compromised. Poole’s annual contract was later renewed.
4. The “shaving/no shaving” assignment
Since 2010, the Arizona State University has made headlines with its unusual assignment designed to reverse stereotypical gender tropes. The professor who offers the assignment is Breanne Fahs, an associate professor of women and gender studies in the University’s New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences. Over the last four years, students in Fahs’ class have had the opportunity to earn extra credit by participating in an exercise relating to body hair…
The premise of the assignment is simple: Female students stop shaving their underarms and legs for the duration of the ten-week exercise, and are told to keep a journal about the resulting reaction they experience from society. Male students taking the assignment are required to shave all body hair from the neck down over the ten weeks. The assignment has revealed some interesting aspects of societal gender differences. Women who participated in the study typically drew a large amount of criticism, both from people they knew personally and from students around campus, while men didn’t suffer so much prejudice, since “manscaping” is quite a popular habit generally. The study also concluded that the women doing the assignment tended to worry most about the reaction from their romantic partner, while men worried more about the reactions of other men.
3. The “r*pe/suicide correlation” assignment
Professor John Shieh received an enormous amount of negative press earlier this year with his indelicate manner of addressing the issues of rape and suicide as part of an assignment. Shieh, who teaches computer programming at Memorial University, Newfoundland, instructed one of his classes to develop a software programme that would determine the likelihood of a fictional sexual assault victim killing herself.
There was uproar within the university at the insensitivity and inappropriateness of such an assignment – the student union, computer science department and sexual harassment clinic all received complaints. The university conducted an investigation and made clear that they took the issue very seriously: The dean of the computer science department, Mark Abrahams, went on record as saying “I was very disappointed when I saw it. What I saw in that assignment is precisely what Memorial University is not about.”
2. The “personal grooming” assignment
The second shaving-related assignment on this list, though this time of an arguably more questionable nature, was that given to students of Dahl’s College of Beauty in 2012. The assignment, which led to numerous lawsuits from students and employees alike, included the instructor exposing her genitals to the class and requiring students to wax her pubic hair. To add insult to arguable sexual harassment, the instructor and proprietor, Barbara Daughenbaugh, charged each student almost ten thousand dollars to take the course, and then expelled most of them without explanation or refund. The College has since closed.
1. The “Sexual Case Study” and masturbation assignment
Possibly one of the most shocking university modules on record is the Human Sexuality course at Western Nevada College. A lawsuit was filed in 2012 by one of the students in the class against her professor for the course, Tom Kubistant. While you might expect a class focusing on the sexuality of the general public to address topics that might be seen as taboo or distasteful, the student’s complaints suggest that Kubistant brought the subject to a whole different level.
On the students’ first day he told them that “he [would] increase their sexual urges to such a height that they [wouldn’t] be able to think about anything other than sex”, which retrospectively perhaps served as a red flag as to his ensuing behaviour. The final assignment for the class was to be entitled “A Sexual Case Study… You!”, and was to include details of how each student lost their virginity, any sexual abuse they had experienced, their promiscuity and things that sexually aroused them, for Kubistant’s eyes only. He also told the class to increase the amount of time they spent masturbating per week, and when mature student Karen Royce told him that she would prefer not to partake, he informed her that “the entire class […] must masturbate if they intended to pass the class.” Royce had also previously suffered sexual abuse, which she made known to Kubistant in light of the final assignment, but Kubistant insisted that she still complete the report as the process would be “cathartic”. Western Nevada College stood by Kubistant, and have gone on record as saying that there was “no evidence to support the student’s complaint of sexual harassment.”
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