Professor’s use of racial slur antithetical to progressive discourse

Akshay Prabhushankar, Staff Writer

Like NYU, the University of Kansas held a university-wide forum on race and discrimination last month in the wake of protests on campuses across the country. A white professor at the university, Andrea Quenette, led a conversation in her graduate class after the forum on how to talk to undergraduate students about racism following the forum. Quenette’s remarks, one of which included the n-word, were met with shock and calls for termination. Quenette’s use of the word in that context is vapid, particularly for an educator — she completely minimized the historical nuance and disturbing magnitude of the slur. There are some instances in the classroom when the n-word should be permitted. For example, when studying the civil rights movement or reading texts where racism is a theme, using the n-word is necessary to establish an accurate setting and analyze its impact. However, Quenette’s use was insensitive, irrational and unacceptable for a person in her position.

The 11 students in the class penned an open letter to Quenette, in which they say that she interjected during the discussion with her remark “as a white woman I just never have seen the racism… It’s not like I see [the “n-word”] spray painted on walls.” The students went on to state that the conversation following this statement was “disparaging.” Quenette also dismissed evidence from a Ph.D student that low retention and graduation rates among black students were attributed to racism and a lack of institutional support, saying “those students are not leaving school because they are physically threatened everyday but because of academic performance.”

These remarks reveal Quenette’s me-and-them stance on race issues, which is especially troublesome considering the influence she has in her profession. Her active opposition to the concerns of students prevent any kind of open dialogue, and her n-word comment exposes her lack of awareness. The fact that an educator at an institution of higher learning would make such vapid statements to discount the experiences of her minority students is deeply disturbing and disheartening, and leaves victims feeling alone and helpless.

While Quenette did issue a statement in which she clarified that she did not mean to hurt or offend, and perhaps she did not realize the implications at the time, her words are inexcusable. It should not take an open letter going viral to motivate her to become educated and mindful of her language and actions, and even this does not guarantee Quenette leading a more welcoming and productive discussion in the future.

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To those who bring up the prevalence of the n-word in music, movies and within the black community, there is a difference between these uses and a white professor using the word during a discussion of racism to students in a classroom. It is also not an issue of freedom of speech, as opponents to the #FireAndreaQuenette movement claim. Quenette’s actions were unacceptable and warrant consequences.

 

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Email Akshay Prabhushankar at [email protected]

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5 COMMENTS

  1. The U.S. culture reeks of nonsense. First and foremost, so low-income, first generation White students who generally have low-retention rates at Universities must accept 100% of the responsibility for *their* lack of success in college. But African Americans, and to a lesser degree Latinos, bear no responsibility for *their* lack of success in college. It’s all due to “racism.” I would argue that is a racist explanation for this entire phenomenon. That is, to not hold individual African Americans (and Latinos) responsible at all for their lack of commitment to their studies as we do for Whites and Asians is racism.

    But secondly, and perhaps an even bigger point, so now, we can’t even discuss and debate our discrepant views on these topics, without individuals having an emotional meltdown and demanding that those who see things differently “be fired.” How fascist and anti-intellectual is that?

    Maybe it’s that anti-intellectualism we’re witnessing on campuses that explains so many students’ lack of success at an institution of higher education.

    C. Negy, Ph.D.

  2. Hey Negy, Nice strawman argument! You did a great job of making up a bullshit argument and then arguing against something that no one said in the first place! And then calling it ‘anti intellectualism’ because a professor used a racial epithet in a professional setting, that’s the icing on the cake. I hope your PhD is in creative writing, cause you’re great at making stuff up but not-so-great at logic 😉

    Just goes to show you can have a PhD and be a complete idiot.

  3. LOL I googled Charles Negy out of curiosity and apparently this putz is famous for attacking his students for ‘bigotry’ for believing in religion – then he goes online to defend racial slurs used in a professional setting! The hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance of this bigot is amazing. In the real world, anyone who yells “N*gger” at their job would be fired. Only in Academia are people so out-of-touch and arrogant that they think the rules don’t apply to them. I guess this passes as intellectualism when you teach at a third-rate mediocre school in Florida.

  4. I agree that all slurs are to be condemned, but this endless cry of “racism” and tireless victimization is honestly very wearisome as well — and I am saying this as a non-white student at NYU. Look at the recent polls regarding millennials, and tell me honestly if you have no concerns about America being in the hands of this generation. I am a millennial, and let me tell you, I am very concerned.

  5. What a croc. She used no slur at all. In fact she was talking about her own lack of racial insight, giving an example. It’s what teachers do. The blatant fascism of these student makes me embarrassed to be an American. They better hope that someday some smart right wing fascist doesn’t turn their evil, self-serving logic right back on them.
    If Kansas back these students there should be an immediate boycott on KU. This sort of witch hunt should have died with Joe McCarthy, the natural heir and hero to these nasty little creeps..

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