University of Southern Maine graduate students walked out of class this month and are demanding officials replace their professor over remarks she made they say were transphobic. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

UPDATE: Officials at the University of Southern Maine announced Monday they they would not replace a professor who allegedly told her class there were only two biological sexes. Read the story here.

PORTLAND, Maine — Nearly two dozen graduate students at the University of Southern Maine are demanding their education professor be replaced after the professor allegedly said only two biological sexes exist.

The students said professor Christy Hammer’s remarks were inaccurate and transphobic.

After all but one student walked out of Hammer’s class on Sept. 14 in protest, they demanded a facilitated restorative justice meeting between the 22 students and their professor.

They got it, but, according to students, Hammer maintained her position saying non-binary biological sex designations are merely variations on male and female. Now they want Hammer gone.

Biologists believe there is a larger spectrum to sex than just the male-female binary.

University officials have yet to make a decision on the request, but students say they don’t want to return to class until they get a new instructor.

“We don’t want to go back to the classroom with Christy Hammer,” said student Michael Lombardi.

Calls and emails to Hammer were not immediately returned, and the university offered a one-sentence response to multiple questions from the Bangor Daily News.

“We are aware of this situation and are taking steps to provide students with the support needed,” said interim Provost Adam Tuchinsky.

Tuchinsky did not indicate if USM was considering replacing Hammer for the class.

“I want her to do some diversity training at least — or just retire,” said student Elizabeth Leibiger, who plans to become a high school English teacher.

According to several students, the situation began Sept. 7 while Hammer was teaching a graduate course in the Extended Teacher Education Program titled “Creating a Positive Learning Environment.”

The class is required to complete the graduate program and become a certified teacher in Maine.

During the session at Bailey Hall on the Gorham campus, a free-for-all discussion erupted over both social gender and biological sex identifications, with one student and Hammer saying they believed only male and female biological sexes exist.

The rest of the class maintained both biological sexes and social genders are on a spectrum.

The heated discussion was not resolved before the end of the class period.

Leibiger, who is non-binary, was absent from class that week but learned about the incident from classmates. When Leibiger arrived for the next class, on Sept. 14, they immediately brought up the discussion again.

“I asked [Hammer] how many sexes there were,” Leibiger said. “She said, ‘Two.’ I felt under personal attack.”

Leibiger then gathered their things and walked out of class because they no longer felt respected.

“I let her know I didn’t think she was qualified to teach a class about positive learning environments,” Leibiger said. “It’s the ultimate irony.”

After leaving class, Leibiger stopped in Bailey Hall’s lobby where all but one of their classmates joined them after the group also walked out of Hammer’s class.

The students then drafted a letter to the school of Education and Human Development, asking for a facilitated restorative justice meeting with their professor and the single student who agreed with her.

“We thought she was just speaking from a place of ignorance, not hate,” Leibiger said.

The meeting took place Wednesday, and the sole student who had disagreed reportedly apologized to classmates. But Hammer maintained her position on the binary nature of sex.

“I went in very optimistic, but at the end of the three hour session it felt like we weren’t listened to,” said Lombardi, who plans to teach high school science.

Lombardi said he wasn’t sure if he and his classmates would show up to the next scheduled class on Oct. 5 if university administrators didn’t agree to replace Hammer. But he’s hoping it will happen.

“Knowing in my heart, as a teacher, that I always want to have my ears open to what my students are saying, and then not have that reciprocated — it was very frustrating,” Lombardi said.

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.