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

PORTLAND, Maine — University of Southern Maine officials announced Monday that they would not replace a professor who allegedly told her class there were only two biological sexes.

The alleged incident upset much of professor Christy Hammer’s graduate-level education class, instigating a mass walk out and triggering a facilitated restorative justice meeting last month where many students demanded Hammer be replaced.

Instead, USM will make an alternative, identical class available.

“We have developed an alternative plan for this class and will be opening a new section of this course for those students who would like to move,” university spokesperson Gina Marie Guadagnino said. “The original section taught by professor Hammer will continue for any student who wishes to remain in that class.”

University officials didn’t specify how many students will be moving to the new section, nor did they comment on Hammer’s alleged statements. Hammer did not respond to phone and email messages.

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

Student Elizabeth Leibiger, who instigated the walkout, is planning to take the alternative class.

“I think that the next step USM needs to take is being clear what accountability will look like for Christy Hammer,” Leibiger said.

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-level Extended Teacher Education 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 spilled over into the next scheduled class on Sept. 14.

A majority of the class then drafted a letter to the Department of Education and Human Development asking for a restorative justice meeting with Hammer.

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.

Leibiger hopes the incident will be instructive for the class of future teachers.

“It’s our job as educators to grow and change, address our biases, and above all else, protect every one of our students,” Leibiger said.

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