Geology Professor Shows Cartoon Joking About Slave Trade in Class

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Geology Professor Shows Cartoon Joking About Slave Trade in Class

"The better-equipped slave ships, of course, always carried a spare," read the cartoon's caption.


"The better-equipped slave ships, of course, always carried a spare," read the cartoon's caption.



"The better-equipped slave ships, of course, always carried a spare," read the cartoon's caption.


Professor of Geology Pat Manley included a cartoon on the introductory slide of a slideshow in her Ocean Floor class on Tuesday that joked about the slave trade. The cartoon, which appeared on a slide titled “Humor for Today,” depicted a slave ship crossing the ocean with a person strapped to the back, with text reading, “the better-equipped slave ships, of course, always carried a spare.”

This incident occurred less than two weeks after a Holocaust-related chemistry midterm exam question caused widespread controversy on campus.

Charlie Caldwell ’22, a student in the class, said that people immediately noticed that the comic was in poor taste.

“There was one of those awkward tensions in the room when someone says or shows something that people are uncomfortable with,” he said.

Caldwell said that Manley always shows a comic at the beginning of class, and that the comics are often unrelated to the content of the course.

“Generally they are pretty cheesy humor and sometimes they get a giggle or two,” he said, explaining that this cartoon felt much different from the norm.  “The objectification of a human is supposed to be the humor of it, which is not funny.”

Caldwell decided to address the situation in the moment. He raised his hand and told Manley that she should not show the comic in the future. He said she was receptive to that feedback.

In response to an email from The Campus, Manley apologized for her decision to show the cartoon in class.

“I am deeply sorry for including a cartoon that makes light of historical atrocities,” she said. “I will be apologizing to the class during our next meeting and expressing my deepest regret that I made anyone in the class uncomfortable, and am working with the administration on the possibility of holding a restorative practices circle with my class.”

Aaron Bode ’22, another student in the class, feels that students should communicate directly with Manley about their concerns as next steps develop, although he also acknowledged that not all students feel comfortable addressing incidents like this with their professors directly.

“I think it’s important to remember that she’s a human being, we all are, and I think it’s important to be in contact with her. I think it’s important that there is a lot of communication with her about this,” he said.

Bode, who is also in the Chemistry 103 class where the offensive midterm question was posed, also expressed his desire for all professors to undergo mandatory bias training.

“Coming to Middlebury, I didn’t think this sort of thing would happen here, but now seeing that it can I think that it’s incredibly important that professors realize these things have big impacts on people,” he said.

According to Andi Lloyd, the dean of faculty, the administration is currently discussing the best way to proceed regarding the potential of mandatory training given recent events.

“Early next week, we will be holding a facilitated dialogue on classroom climate for faculty who have already asked for a chance to participate in such an opportunity,” she said.

Renee Wells, the college’s director of education for equity and inclusion who will pilot an anti-bias training program in the fall, has mixed feelings about requiring mandatory training.

“In theory, making training mandatory means everyone participates, but what that ‘participation’ looks like can vary widely depending on whether people actually want to be there, which can impact the experience and effectiveness of the space for all the participants in the room,” she said. “We need to be intentional about determining the best way to meaningfully engage our faculty and staff in these conversations so those conversations can benefit the entire campus community.”

Wells explained that her pilot program is not currently designed to be mandatory, but rather to further ongoing conversations that will help reduce bias and change the culture around such incidents on campus.

“The ongoing education program for faculty and staff is designed to create space for those conversations to happen and to strategically focus on concrete ways we can adapt our practices to better achieve those goals,” she said.

Correction: an earlier version of this article stated that the cartoon depicted the transatlantic slave trade. In fact, the cartoon did not specify which slave trade was being depicted.

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About the Writer
SARAH ASCH, Editor-at-Large

Sarah Asch ’19.5 is an editor at large.

She previously served as senior features editor, features editor, and staff writer.

Asch is majoring in...


6 Responses to “Geology Professor Shows Cartoon Joking About Slave Trade in Class”

  1. Boat Guy on April 17th, 2019 11:55 am

    Inappropriate cartoon, sure, but can we all agree this is a classical (Greek/Roman) slave ship, not a translatlantic slave ship? Don’t think many rowboats have crossed the Atlantic.

  2. Midd Alum 14 on April 17th, 2019 12:06 pm

    The Campus needs to do a better job policing their own language. “transatlantic slave trade?” “crossing the ocean?” The Cartoon is not appropriate and has no place in the classroom. Full stop. However, but by making such wild assertions by tying the cartoon to the transatlantic slave trade the Campus fails to do their duty. That is, report and inform. Instead, they have chosen to editorialize and go for catchy and provocative language. There are real issues at Middlebury and beyond – please do not dilute them by such comments.

  3. David Montgomery on April 17th, 2019 6:51 pm

    You are kidding, right? That is a Roman slave galley. All white. Not everything is about race. Really. It is not. Anyone who thinks so is a moron. No connection to the middle passage except for the word “slave.” If you think there is somehow a connection, Middlebury should immediately investigate whether you used Rick Singer to help you get admitted.

  4. S. Kim on April 17th, 2019 9:19 pm

    The Campus has gone back and edited this article – now removing the words “transatlantic” without comment. There needs to be a note from the editorial staff describing edits to this article. Indeed, this is malpractice on the part of the author and the editors who approved this language. By connecting this ship (clearly not linked to the horrors of the triangular trade) the article fails to take seriously and how painful the history is. The campus should issue an apology to both the professor and to its readers (esp. POC) for using such language to sensationalize the story. When I read the tag line I was outraged and even called several other alums to discuss. Upon further examination, it is clear that the author used this language to catch my eye not actually report the facts.

  5. student on April 18th, 2019 5:14 pm

    lmao y’all are trippin over some Gary Larson

  6. Bryan Thompson on April 19th, 2019 12:42 pm

    Do we really want to go out of our way to bring back all the racial strife from the ’60’s? Because that is all this garbage is doing. Its a Gary Larson cartoon, and all the people in the cartoon are WHITE. Larson hasn’t drawn a cartoon in years. And yes, white people were slaves of one type or another in our human history as well.

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Geology Professor Shows Cartoon Joking About Slave Trade in Class