Home Education Academic freedom doesn’t mean using the n-word, say professors

Academic freedom doesn’t mean using the n-word, say professors

by Mahad Arale

Faculty and staff at uOttawa, U of T, York say there’s no reason to use the racist term in any academic setting

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

After 34 University of Ottawa professors signed a letter in support of a colleague who used the n-word in class, professors from other universities said the term should not be used by non-Black professors in any academic setting.

Verushka Lieutenant-Duval, a part-time University of Ottawa professor, was suspended on Sept. 23 after she used the racist slur during a class session. Many professors at the university from different departments signed a letter supporting Lieutenant-Duval, stating that there is value in using the term in an academic setting.

But ensconcing the racial slur in the argument of academic freedom isn’t flying with all professors.

Tania Aguila-Way is an associate professor in the University of Toronto’s English department whose syllabus sometimes includes texts with the slur. 

“My position on this is that there is no reason, pedagogical or otherwise, for uttering the n-word in academic settings,” she said. “I teach some historical texts that contain the n-word and I would never say it out loud in class, even while reading passages that contain it.” 

Andrea A. Davis, associate professor at York University’s Department of Humanities, said she does not believe the usage of the term by non-Black faculty members is “justifiable in any context” and uttering the term should not be protected under claims of academic freedom.

Both professors are women of colour. Aguila-Way is an immigrant from Mexico; Davis a Black woman. The caucus of the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) Professors and Librarians at the University of Ottawa also spoke out, issuing an online statement with over 2,000 signatures. It reads in part:

“The Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) Professors and Librarians caucus at the University of Ottawa unequivocally condemns the use of the N word and the conversation on academic freedom that is being used to justify the use of this racist slur… We express our unconditional solidarity with our Black colleagues and students as they continue to face anti-black racism at the University of Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada. Black students deserve to go to university without having to hear derogatory terms about their communities or having the use of terms that dehumanize them being put up for a class debate.”

Jacques Frémont, president of the University of Ottawa, said in a statement last week that academic freedom and a student’s right to be treated with respect and dignity should not oppose one another.

“While the university recognizes the right and indeed the duty of academics to discuss and explore sensitive issues, there is a clear responsibility to do so in a way that causes no harm,” the statement reads. “That did not happen in this case.”

Jessica Leach, spokesperson for Ryerson University, said that students who find themselves in situations where discriminatory language is being used can turn to the university’s Human Rights Services team as well as the Student Care department.

This article may have been created with the use of AI software such as Google Docs, Grammarly, and/or Otter.ai for transcription.

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