“Her Incredible Strength as a Teacher”

(Editor’s note: Eight students of Dr. Eunice Sahle, who heads the African and Afro-American Studies Department at UNC-Chapel Hill, respond to a critique of her writing written by the Pope Center’s Jay Schalin and published on January 22. Schalin’s reply to their letters is published here.)

To the Pope Center:

In response to the recent publication of an article on the Pope Center website we as a group of former students of Dr. Eunice Sahle have decided it is necessary to record our experiences as her students and to share a few of them with you. While Mr. Schalin, in his article, implies that Dr. Sahle uses her position as an educator to indoctrinate her students, this cannot be further from the truth. Our many experiences with Dr. Sahle speak to her incredible strength as a teacher, inspiring students with many different backgrounds and perspectives. In order to show our support for Dr. Sahle, we have compiled our testimonies to speak to her incredible ability to inspire and the immense respect she shows towards her students:

Having Dr. Sahle as a professor at UNC completely changed the trajectory of my life. Under her tutelage I discovered a love and desire for research. She encouraged my intellectual curiosity, and provide me with methods and tools to explore topics I found stimulating. Her courses were some of the most rigorous courses I took at UNC, and helped me figure out what I want to work on now, which is heavily rooted in development and food systems. As a woman of color, it was a deeply empowering experience to have an educator who looked like me, especially when academia is still overwhelmingly male and white. As a student of color, this mattered to me, as does equitable representation and a diversity of voices from all backgrounds should matter to all who want to create a well rounded educational institution. Not only is Sahle an incredibly knowledgeable professor, she genuinely cares for all of her students, which I was able to witness even more so during my semester abroad with her as an instructor. Dr. Sahle is a phenomenal educator and I can say, without a doubt, that learning from her was one of the best experiences of my time at Carolina.
Tavia Benjamin
Healthy Food Access Intern, Wallace Center at Winrock International
Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow

Dr. Sahle has been my mentor for the last four years and I owe my academic success to her inspiring mentorship. She has taught me to think critically and pushed me to be my best. She is an incredible teacher, who has found the perfect balance between challenging and supporting students. And while I have incredible respect for Dr. Sahle’s academic work, I have also sat across from her in her office and disagreed, and I know that these moments are the ones when she is most proud of me. She has many times told me that through the last few years of mentorship, she has most enjoyed watching me find my own voice and develop the confidence to stand by my perspective and respect my insights. In fact, from the earliest class I took with Dr. Sahle, she insisted that all of us students consider ourselves scholars, not merely students, but as contributors to the learning occurring in the classroom. The respect she gives her students inspires them to live up to her expectations and to view themselves as active participants in scholarship. Without her encouragement and respect I would not be where I am today, and I am extremely grateful for having her influence in my life.
Kari Dahlgren
Master’s in African Studies Candidate, 2013
University of Oxford

As a former student of Dr. Eunice Sahle I am appalled by Mr. Schalin’s attack, and I can personally attest that Dr. Sahle has always supported her students to critically engage with other scholars (including her own work) in order to help them find their own voice. During our study abroad program I made a presentation and had my ideas ridiculed by a visiting speaker; afterwards Dr. Sahle took me aside and told me that I should remain firm in my own beliefs. She said that my convictions were my own, they added depth to my research, and that I should not abandon them in the face of adversity. She helped me to regain my confidence in my own ideas despite the fact that they were ideologically different from her own. Dr. Sahle’s only agenda is encouraging students to forge new paths as scholars. Dr. Sahle’s mentorship and recommendations has helped me on my path to combine my passion for economics and the law. I strongly encourage the university to make an official statement condemning Mr. Schalin’s article, clearly he never took a course on logical fallacies (as I did at UNC) otherwise he would not erroneously claim that “If Sahle sees the existing order as a nefarious force, and she adheres to the Gramscian philosophy of subverting capitalism by a ‘long march’ through its institutions, then it is logical to assume that she will encourage students to adopt her grudges and ideology.” There is nothing logical about that claim and in fact, if he bothered to check he would find empirical evidence proving the contrary.
Kara Todd
JD Candidate, 2014
Georgetown University Law Center    

Although my views on economics, morals and international development are fundamentally different than Professor Sahle’s, she has been an incredible mentor to me in the most professional way imaginable. She has advocated for me in numerous forums to obtain research funding and respects me as an individual thinker. As a student I could not possibly ask for anything more from a professor. One of the most powerful lessons I have learned from Professor Sahle is the importance of respecting others views through the academic forum. I may not ‘agree’ with all of Sahle’s positions, but she respects me more for my individual views than she would if blindly accepted every idea she presented.
Anthony Peele
Fulbright Fellow in Economics 2012/2013

Professor Sahle is one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had. She pushes her students not just to read and regurgitate, but to really think about materials and to think about the world. She, like any human, has a perspective, but it has never felt like she wanted us to think the way she thinks. She agreed to be my thesis mentor for a topic that had nothing to do with her interests, but everything to do with mine. She also seeks to do exactly what this article doesn’t: contextualize processes, events, and themes in political, economic, and social history. She strives to help us all become scholars—not mere consumers, but producers of knowledge and insight.

Perhaps more importantly, Dr. Sahle is among the most ethical people I know. She stands up for education and students’ growth, even if it puts her in conflict with her colleagues. She clearly and deeply cares about her students, and I have seen her become deeply troubled if they are not getting the quality of education they deserve. I cannot imagine a better candidate for the position she has filled.
Deena Fulton
Master of Public Health Candidate 2014
University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health

We find Mr. Schalin’s attack on Dr. Sahle’s integrity as an educator to be malicious and completely false. As you see from our testimonies, our experiences with Dr. Sahle have been positive and engaging, and we are confident that our few testimonies are echoed by many others students who have had the pleasure of learning from Dr. Sahle throughout the years.

Anthony Peele (Class of 2010)
Andrea Halbsgut (Class of 2011)
Deena Fulton (Class of 2011)
Tavia Benjamin (Class of 2011)
Kara Todd (Class of 2011)
Laura Arias-Gomez (Class of 2011)
Kari Dahlgren (Class of 2012)
Amarachi Anakaronye (Class of 2013)