FORT WORTH -- An e-mail invitation to a group of students from a TCU professor is causing controversy and raising questions about race, ethnicity, and special help.
Junior Allyson Guzman and 11 other students received the e-mail from Dr. Santiago Pinon Wednesday afternoon.
"At the beginning of the semester I usually like to invite all my students of color to get together and discuss the challenges they may face during the semester," he wrote. "However, the time slipped by and I didn't get a chance. So, I would like to ask if you are interested in a get together on Monday afternoon? We can also discuss the exam that is coming up, if you want. I don't mind if this would turn out to be a study session for my STUDENTS OF COLOR ONLY [emphasis his]."
Guzman said she was slightly offended.
“I don't know if he was judging us by our pictures or our last names,” she said. “When you go off the check list, I check Caucasian, because that's what I am.”
The teacher's class is called "Understanding Religion: Society and Culture."
Guzman posted the e-mail on her Facebook page and her friends chimed in. They started asking questions about the teacher’s intentions.
“What if I was white and didn't get this e-mail, like, shouldn't there be a study session for me as well?” she asked. “Why am I being segregated?”
She wasn’t alone.
TCU told News 8 another student contacted the administration about the e-mail Wednesday night. They say it was a misunderstanding and that Pinon, a professor of Hispanic heritage, does reach out to minority students to help them feel connected.
"I didn't think much of the e-mail at first, I just assumed that in the context of it being a Latino Religions class, he just wanted to reach out to his "students of color" and try to help them through the semester," said student Aurelio Rangel. "It wasn't until after reading the e-mail through a couple of more times that the connotation behind it became questionable. I personally take no offense in the intent, but do understand those who may have been offended by it."
Pinon sent News 8 a statement Friday afternoon saying the intent of the e-mail was "misunderstood."
"I do like to offer myself as a resource to students (particularly those of color) who may face challenges and become discouraged; goal is to encourage and offer support, so I am troubled to think some students may have thought they were being excluded from a study session because that was not at all the intention," he said in the statement. "I have since sent an email clarifying the misunderstanding."
The university addressed the situation Thursday.
"TCU expects that professors offer equal assistance to all students,” said TCU spokeswoman Lisa Albert.
Late Thursday, Pinon sent an e-mail to all of his students, stating they can contact him via e-mail or at his office about Tuesday’s exam and how to best study for it. Guzman got that one, too.
She said she likes her teacher, admires his passion, and hopes he turns this experience into a lesson in the classroom.
“There are no harsh feelings,” she said. “I don't think I should deserve special attention from anyone else. I want to be equal.”
Dr. Santiago Pinon's e-mail to all students
As I stated in class, if you have any questions about the exam you are more than welcome to contact through email over the weekend. Also, I should be in my office on Friday and on Monday if you should have any questions and would like to stop by and discuss how to best study for the exam.
“The intent of the email was misunderstood. I should have been more clear in that any study group is open to all students. My goal is to participate in and contribute to the TCU mission by being available to all students so they are successful in the classroom and beyond. I have always been open to having review sessions with an entire class or with smaller groups of students without excluding others. I want all my students to be successful and am willing to devote extra time to foster that success. I do like to offer myself as a resource to students (particularly those of color) who may face challenges and become discouraged; goal is to encourage and offer support, so I am troubled to think some students may have thought they were being excluded from a study session because that was not at all the intention. I have since sent an email clarifying the misunderstanding.”