"Sarah Jackson"–does that name mean anything to you?
No? Didn't mean anything to me, either.
And it apparently didn't mean anything to Keaton Wahlbon, a freshman at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. Wahlbon, by his account, wrote down the name in answer to this question on a geology quiz last week: "What is your lab instructor's name?" (If you don't remember make something good up.). " Wahlbon couldn't remember the female instructor's name, so he followed the quiz's instructions and made something up. He says he picked "Sarah" as a common woman's name and "Jackson" as a common surname.
Uh-oh! Turns out that one of the 2,000-plus "Sarah Jacksons" in North America is a busty and attractive Canadian bassiere and swimsuit model with a brief TV and movie career. The lab instructor seemed to know all about the underwear ads and was Not Amused.
And then, as the Knoxville News Sentinel reports:
University of Tennessee officials are investigating a claim of sexual harassment after reports surfaced online that a student received a zero on a geology quiz for answering a question about his lab instructor's name with that of a semifamous lingerie model.
Sexual harassment? How can an 18-year-old student harass a teacher? Isn't it supposed to be the other way around? The lecherous professor with the power of dinging a grade hitting on a hapless undergraduate?
Neither the student nor the teaching assistant filed a complaint, said university spokeswoman Karen Simsen. Rather, faculty in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences raised the issue Monday after spotting a post about the incident online at the website totalfratmove.com….
The post included a photo of the quiz and emails between Wahlbon and his professor, William Deane.
In the email, Wahlbon protested his grade.
"A bunch of us didn't know (the instructor's name) so I literally put down a very common girl name and a common last name, Sarah Jackson," Wahlbon wrote. "Turns out Sarah Jackson is a porn star so I got a 0 for the whole quiz. … I didn't know that was the case and (had) zero intention of trying to be funny or rude."
Deane responded by saying he could not judge the student's intention, only the outcome.
"The result is that you gave the name Sarah Jackson, who is a lingerie and nude model," Deane wrote. "That result meets the Title IX definition of sexual harassment."
Deane then refused to change Wahlbon's grade.
Fortunately. the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is monitoring this double whammy:
As our readers know, the Supreme Court defined peer-on-peer harassment in the educational context as conduct that is so “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it can be said to deprive the victims of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school.” No reasonable person could believe that a student giving an incorrect quiz answer rises to the level of harassment defined by the Court. Its absurdity is what led to sites like Total Frat Move covering the story.
That coverage, unfortunately, appears to have led UT officials to—without a complaint by the student or TA—open a Title IX investigation because faculty saw the post on Total Frat Move. As if it wasn’t enough for Wahlbon to be censured for sexual harassment for an incorrect answer on a quiz, apparently publicly pointing out the absurdity of such an interpretation has subjected him to a formal investigation by the university. Investigations, as we’ve said before, can have a chilling effect on speech.
And so is The Chattanoogan columnist Roy Exum:
Curious, I went to Wikipedia with “Sarah Jackson” and came up with an artist in Canada. I went to Bing and found a piccolo player with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. If you go to WhitePages.com, there are two exacts and 192 “possibles” in just Chattanooga, Tenn, alone. Honestly, you can find “Sarah Jackson” everywhere.
You have to search Google to find a dark-haired “Sarah Jackson” from Canada who is wearing bathing suits and bras in ads but with persistent research – and deep-digging like earth science requires — you can do a search for “Sarah Jackson Porn” and finally find a blond-haired “Sarah Jackson” from New York who did several X-rated tapes back in 2010. The bathing-suit model and the adult actress are two different “Sarah Jacksons.”
It will be interesting to see whether the UT-Knoxville investigators come to their senses and dismiss the complaint againt Wahlbon for the ridiculousness that it is–or whether they raise Title IX probes to the next level of Star Chamber-ness.