Georgetown Professor Under Fire For Reading The “N-Word” In A Class On Free Speech and Racism

We have been discussing professors who have been investigated or sanctioned for the use of the “n-word” in classes or tests at Duquesne, John Marshall, Augsberg, Chicago, DePaul, Princeton, Kansas, and other schools. According to The Hoya, we can now add Georgetown as after Professor Michele Swers read the words of a Ku Klux Klan leader in her “U.S. Political Systems” class, and “did not censor the racial epithet.” What is notable in this case is that the complaint against Professor Swers suggests that she would have the protection of free speech and academic freedom if she were black but that no white person may use or read the word in any context for any purpose.

In a letter to Swers, the students insist that “we uphold the First Amendment” but then demand to control the speech of professors in class, including reading from material on racism. They cite the Georgetown University Faculty handbook that prohibits harassment and defines that terms as including “verbal abuse or ridicule, including slurs, epithets, and stereotyping; offensive jokes and comments; threatening, intimidating, or hostile acts, and displaying or distributing offensive materials, writings, graffiti, or pictures.” However, this was a class on the “U.S. Political Systems” were the slur was part of the underlying historical material and the students were warned in advance that the class would cover sensitive material.

The removal of such terms and images in a class addressing racism can substantially change and undermine a professor’s treatment of the subject. It is analogous to decision of the Yale University Press when it published Jytte Klausen’s “The Cartoons That Shook the World” (on the cartoons that led to riots and over 200 killed in protests worldwide). Yale removed the the 12 cartoons from the book so not to insult Muslims. Thus, you could read the book but not actually see the cartoons themselves.  Moreover, the students are suggesting that a black professor could read from the historical documents in the same class but not a non-black professor.

Ironically, the was a class discussion on free speech and racism. Swers was quoting Clarence Brandenburg from Brandenburg v. Ohio (a 1969 case that we can discussed much in terms of “violent speech”), the Court struck down an Ohio law prohibiting public speech that was deemed as promoting illegal conduct. It supported the right of the KKK to speak even though it is a hateful organization.

The letter insists that white professors cannot read such passages.  The students insist “This word was not only written on the slide without any censoring but also said aloud with a hard ‘r.'” They also object that Swers referred to Brandenburg as not a terribly sympathetic figure” rather than being more forceful and demonstrative in condemning the historical figure behind the Supreme Court decision. The students also demand proof of being reeducated on the racism and acceptance that white professors are barred from using the word:

We ask that you take action in the form of: 

  1. a clear, sincere, and direct apology to everyone in the class; 

  2. a meticulous review of presentation and lecture material for potential bias; 

  3. a demonstrated understanding of the history of the N-word and why it is inappropriate for a non-Black person to say it in any context, including an educational context.

The letter was filed Mirka Sosa with the campus Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action. Sosa insisted that Swers be held to “full accountability” and emphasized that the problem is that she is white and that white professors “should not say that word at all.”

As will come as little surprise to many on this blog, my natural default remains with the free speech and academic freedom principles protecting Swers in reading from historical documents. Thus, I do not agree that the use of offensive terms like this are barred in “any context” and regardless of the intent behind such references.  Finally, the effort to bar professors from reading from such a document based on their own race is deeply disturbing and raises its own concerns over the use of racial classifications.

97 thoughts on “Georgetown Professor Under Fire For Reading The “N-Word” In A Class On Free Speech and Racism”

  1. Hey moderator! How is it possible that the word for black in Spanish is sent straight to moderation, but THIS from squeaky Fromm doesn’t?

    “ So I say this: It’s time for ascended blacks to wish niggers good luck. Just as whites may be concerned with the good of all citizens but don’t travel their days worrying specifically about the well-being of hillbillies from Appalachia, we need to send n!gg&rs on their way. We need to start extolling the most virtuous of ourselves. It is time to celebrate the New Black Americans—those who have sealed the Deal, who aren’t beholden to liberal indulgence any more than they are to the disdain of the hard Right. It is time to praise blacks who are merely undeniable in their individuality and exemplary in their levels of achievement. ”

  2. I am a lifelong liberal Democrat. The students’ view that “it is inappropriate for a non-Black person to say it in any context, including an educational context” is nonsense. It’s an offensive word. There are many offensive words, and there are good educational / scholarly reasons to use all of them. We cannot understand history and politics without dealing accurately with abhorrent views. I hope the Georgetown administration responds in a way that helps the students learn this. The prof. doesn’t need to apologize.

    1. Anonymous, I find it amazing that a comment I posted containing the Spanish word for black was sent straight to moderation, but squeaky Fromm’s post using the actual N-word was not.

      Seriously, this is supposed to be a blog from a free speech advocate who is critical of such actions censoring certain words because they are offensive.

      I agree the professor shouldn’t apologize at all and the student complaining is being overly zealous about the use of the word.

      1. Anonymous, I find it amazing that a comment I posted containing the Spanish word for black was sent straight to moderation, but squeaky Fromm’s post using the actual N-word was not.

        The “actual N-word” is Nazi.

    1. Arthur:

      “The Brown Shirts are alive and active at GU.”
      ***************************
      I always thought the Jesuits wear black when engaged in their history-spanning infamy. Live and learn.

  3. Here’s the offending part with a modification showing the offending word,

    “ That word shouldn’t be offensive at all when used in the proper context. It’s no different than saying n…(Spanish for black) which is rarely used but is deemed almost as offensive if used in the wrong context. N….(Spanish for black) is just saying black in Spanish. Ironically if you pronounce in Spanish it loses its offensiveness.”

    1. Svelte

      We get it; you are butt hurt.

      No need to post essentially the same comment five times.

      Move on.

          1. I gather that you didn’t recognize that my question was a rhetorical one.

            Interesting that you don’t know about Squeaky without asking her, but you know about Svelaz without asking.

      1. Monumentcolorado, nope. Just points out a glaring inconsistency in the standards of this blog.

        Pointing out the sheer irony about a a column on this blog criticizing a punishment for exercising an exercise of free speech by a blog that does the same thing.

        What Turley’s blog does is exactly the same thing Facebook and Twitter do. Just pointing it out.

        1. Looks like Squeaky’s comments have mostly been deleted.

          Perhaps her comment lauding George Floyd’s murder went too far even for Turley.

  4. This is amazing, I just posted a comment that included the Spanish word for black and it was sent immediately to moderation. Really?! Turley’s blog? The free speech advocate’s own blog censors the very word discussed in the column for the exact same reason. Turley being a hypocrite? Here’s the original post sans the offending part.

    “ Interesting, this is one rare instance where I agree with professor Turley’s take on the issue. The professor at the university shouldn’t apologize at all for using that word at all. The student making the complaint is being overly zealous and way too involved in the “offense” of the use of the word.

    Strangely I wonder at the same time if this blog will censor the use of the N-word if used in a historical context or any context devoid of malice or intent to insult.

    The person demanding an apology and declaring that the N-word cannot be used in any context is full of crap. That word shouldn’t be offensive at all when used in the proper context. ”

      1. Anonymous, I get that, but the irony shouldn’t be lost on Turley himself unless he really doesn’t pay any attention to what his own blog does.

        Turley, along with his many fans constantly whine and moan about “big tech” attacking freedom of speech by doing exactly what his own blog does. It seems like a textbook example of what cognitive dissonance looks like.

        1. these old fashioned gripes won’t matter in a year.

          what’s going to matter is who’s on your side for real, when things get ugly

  5. “[T]he Georgetown University Faculty handbook that prohibits harassment and defines that terms [sic] as including [. . .] “displaying or distributing offensive materials . . .”

    Over the years, I had students who were offended by arguments for and against abortion, and for and against God. Tribalists are offended by the use of the term “individualism.” I’ve had students who were offended by arguments for and against capitalism, and those who were livid about any discussion of affirmative action.

    If being “offended” is the standard for censorship in the classroom, then there is nothing of importance left to teach. And you end up with generations of ignoramuses.

    1. 100%. I’m horrified, but, sadly, not long surprised by such cases. Jonathan Swift on steroids, folks. I am ashamed and disgusted by the students and the idiots, fools, and cowards who enable them.

  6. The legal eagles here will have to explain the basis of legal action here.
    To me there is a constitutionally protected right to earn a living. To fire a person for exercising their first amendment rights is actionable.
    But, no lawyer has stepped forward to represent a defendant.

    There must be case law that has already canceled this right to free speech, and forfeit the right to earn a living.

    Yes I understand free speech has limits. Limits that protect others rights. I see no person being deprived their rights, by a teacher using offensive language. Offensive cannot be defined, and no definable damage occurs.

    1. 1. Nothing has happened to the professor . . .yet.

      2. Barratry. Barratry is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary, 7th ed. (St. Paul: West Publishing, 1999) as “[t]he offence of frequently exciting and stirring up quarrels and suits, either at law or otherwise”.

  7. Today I will be investigating phrases, “tightwad” & “penny pincher” under strict laboratory conditions.

    After all, Uncle Joe Biden is going on a $6 trillion dollar spending spree. What’s in your wallet?

    1. “What’s in your wallet?”

      A lot less buying power than there was before Biden.

      That looming wall of water on the horizon is a tsunami of inflation, caused by the Democrats’ socialist policies. But, shh, don’t tell the Biden administration or the MSM. You’ll disturb their evasions.

  8. First: Fire Sosa.
    Second: Shutdown the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action, from this campus and any other campus where it exists. Are these students there to excel in life on their individual talent or intimidation as activists.

  9. Been thinking about this incident and decided to discuss the elephant in the room.

    Ms Sowe just reinforced the reluctance of many whites to interact with blacks.

    When blacks introduce race into a discussion and use it as a weapon, then the only question is “How much damage will the white person suffer?”.

    So whites learn (the smart ones), not to engage with blacks.

    Huge overgeneralization but true enough.

    We end up with defacto segregation.

    Think about the consequences. We all suffer, but the United States will suffer most of all.

    Is that what Dems want?

      1. A

        Then why are the Dems solidly behind this racial antagonism and budding segregation?

  10. Grateful not to be teaching in this environment. The sad thing is that the student does not recognize her hypocrisy in this affair

  11. Sounds like Mirka Sosa has her own little racism problem, and should be called out on that. It’s about time the pervasive and growing anti-white racism in this country be recognized for what it is — the other side of the coin. It wouldn’t be the first time in history that the oppressed flipped sides and became the oppressor. And did Sosa get that dumb after entering Georgetown, or was she already beyond the pale?

  12. It appears to me that Mirka Sosa, like so many others in our society today, is either a virtue signaling proxy anti-white racist or a full blown racist. These people are f’king imbeciles and we shouldn’t be pandering to their ignorant demands.

    It’s amazing how students want to go to a university such as Georgetown, a university that has literally become a prestigious school over the years because they have challenged their students and now the ignorant students want to change the school and turn it into some kind of snowflake safe zone that can’t challenge the students to be think critically and be tolerant human beings. Professor Swers and the University should categorically refuse to apologize for teaching and challenging their students.

    In a very real world way this is like the rich city couple that buys some property in the country, builds a huge expensive house, and then demands that the county shut down the 150 year old pig farm that’s up wind from their expensive home. If the students don’t like where they are they have the freedom to get off their snowflake-ass and go elsewhere.

    In my humble opinion, the students that sent the letter (ALL OF THEM) should be forced to apologize or be expelled for their imbecilic attacks against the facility and the institution.

    It’s time to stand up against this kind of stupidity.

    1. “In my humble opinion, the students that sent the letter (ALL OF THEM) should be forced to apologize or be expelled for their imbecilic attacks against the facility and the institution.”

      What is the point of a forced apology? It does nothing but demonstrate the power of the one forcing the apology. Apologies are worthless if they are not sincere.

      The students’ demands are inappropriate, but they do not merit expulsion. They are students and need educating, and the university should use it as teaching context.

      1. Anonymous wrote, “The students’ demands are inappropriate, but they do not merit expulsion.”

        Let me get this right; you think it’s inappropriate for the students to make such demands but the actions of the students in publicly smearing the teacher with false racist smears don’t warrant expulsion? I categorically disagree. This is outright immoral anti-white racist abuse of the faculty by the students.

        Do you know what the word enabling means?

        If these educators kowtow to these social justice anti-white proxy racist students it’s capitulation and it will enable a horde of stupid people; the inmates running the asylum.

        1. “you think it’s inappropriate for the students to make such demands”

          Yes, see my 9:56 AM comment.

          “the actions of the students in publicly smearing the teacher with false racist smears don’t warrant expulsion?”

          Yes. They, too, have free speech rights. They are free to make demands, and the university should educate them about why their demands are inappropriate. Educating students are among the university’s responsibilities.

          “If these educators kowtow …”

          If you’re suggesting that the only options are to kowtow or to expel, then you’re creating a false dichotomy.

          1. Anonymous wrote, “If you’re suggesting that the only options are to kowtow or to expel”

            Nope not suggesting that at all, that’s why I separated that into a completely separate paragraph.

          2. Anonymous wrote, “Yes. They, too, have free speech rights. They are free to make demands, and the university should educate them about why their demands are inappropriate. Educating students are among the university’s responsibilities.”

            I refer you back to my previous statement that what the students are doing is “outright immoral anti-white racist abuse of the faculty by the students”. There is a point where a stand must be made to counter the outright abuse of the faculty and make it very clear to the student body that a red line exists when it comes to student’s behavior.

            We can disagree on this point.

  13. What’s the Bogeyman behind the n-word? There must be one or several. The Death Eaters would say Voldemort, but no one else would. It is a horrible and despicable word, but it has risen to a new level, as though it is some evil talisman.

    It is a word of erasure. There is fear there and insecurity. The antidote isn’t to abolish its use. Neither is it to use it. The answer is sideways from censorship, though… What is the right way to defuse this word?

    Since it is a dehumanizing word, is part of the antidote to celebrate the dignity and value of individuals?

    1. It’s not a dehumanizing word. It’s just a word. For some (increasingly small) number of people it is simply the generic term for black people. For everyone else, it is a term that denotes an ignorant black person. The first usage is offensive only insofar as it is conflated with the second usage. The second usage is offensive, but on an individual rather than racial level.

      1. “t’s not a dehumanizing word. It’s just a word.”

        According to you, are any words dehumanizing, and if so, what are some examples?

        “For everyone else, it is a term that denotes an ignorant black person.”

        You don’t speak for everyone else. That’s not what it means for me. If I want to call someone ignorant, I use the word “ignorant.” For example, I think it’s ignorant for you to ignore the history of and full range of the word’s meanings, which are not limited to what you claim.

  14. Only Judicial Branch courtrooms will fix this (with constitutional attorneys or pro se plaintiffs acting as your own attorney) – filing constitutional lawsuits. Anyone fired for exercising their legal First Amendment rights should challenge this unAmerican censoring in court.

    Many of us feel fortunate to have grown up in the 1970’s and 1980’s where Americans challenged this censorship in court. In the 21st Century would it be possible for a modern day George Carlin to launch a constitutional lawsuit over his “7 Dirty Words” video? Or “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” (movies and weekly series) to exist for fear of offending someone? Could Eddie Murphy’s standup comedy acts exist today?

    Anyone professor, of any public college, fired needs to go to court! The First Amendment simply doesn’t allow this type of censorship based on skin color of the speaker or implied intent.

      1. Mistress, a number of years ago a fund was created for writers on Islamic terrorism because they were being sued for their writings even though there was no reason for the suit. This was to shut those writers up. A fund was created to hire lawyers to protect them against the well funded Islamic groups suing them. It was successful.

  15. This has become a power game.

    Ms (?) Sowa used her “offence” to lever herself into a position of power.

    Prof. Swers is now on the defensive and the discussion is no longer between a professor/student but rather between a victim/predator.

    The question is, will Prof. Swers keep her scalp, or will Ms Sowa get a boost up her career ladder.

    Shame on the school for collaborating in this shameful game.

    Political correctness has become a social weapon.

  16. So these nitwits, who never should have been admitted to Georgetown (a formerly respectable university) in the first place, are demanding the right to censor a professor’s speech in class. The next step, of course, is to demand that the professor be fired for even THINKING the “N-word”. And, of course, the spineless university administrators will go along with that.

    1. WOL:
      The men in the university setting are pussies aren’t they? Maybe its from being around mostly women or maybe it’s what Nixon said about education strengthening the mind but weakening the spine. They ought to get on their knees every night and thank God that as Orwell said “[They] sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

      1. “education strengthening the mind but weakening the spine”

        An excellent education will strengthen the spine.

        Socrates’ tombstone said, I think, ‘I fought at Marathon.’

        An excellent education introduces students to the valor of good men in the face of tyranny. It helps students explore their values and beliefs and prompts them to consider their worth. Would I be willing to ‘fight in the shade’? Would I be willing to lie to Pharaoh?

        1. PR:

          True enough but we’ve watered down and denigrated martial vigor that was the framework for Socrates educational principles, so that it’s a mere shadow of itself. We’re going through a dearth of manly principles among the middle class aided mightily by feminism,political correctness and intersectionality. Gibbon explained it this way in the context of resisting authoritarians:

          “The obvious definition of a monarchy seems to be that of a state, in which a single person, by whatsoever name he may be distinguished, is entrusted with the execution of the laws, the management of the revenue, and the command of the army. But unless public liberty is protected by intrepid and vigilant guardians, the authority of so formidable a magistrate will soon degenerate into despotism. The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people. A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional assemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince.”

          Decline & Fall, Vol. 1, Ch. 3.

          1. “The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people.”

            Gibbon wrote this in the late 1700s in England, which definitely had (has) a tight link between the throne and the altar. Not so here and now. Churches here are aimed far more towards seeking God (rather than government influence as Gibbon alluded to above).

      2. “Maybe its from being around mostly women”

        Boudica would look pityingly upon them.

  17. The letter was filed Mirka Sosa with the campus Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action. Sosa insisted that Swers be held to “full accountability” and emphasized that the problem is that she is white and that white professors “should not say that word at all.”
    **************************************
    The problem is that Mirka is a racist and doesn’t know it — in exactly the same way she accuses others. Project much, sister? Oh and let’s ban organizations known as Offices of Diversity, Equity, Affirmative Action and Communism from campus. The SCOTUS started this un-American, anti-merit notion of affirmative action. They oughta end it.

    1. “…she would have the protection of free speech and academic freedom if she were black but that no white person may use or read the word in any context for any purpose.”

      This opens up a new employment opportunity for one minority. When a professor is reading such material he can have a standby minority there to read the sentences he is not permitted to read.

      Does that make sense? No. The left doesn’t have to make sense. They are mimicking the fascist governments or Mao, Hitler and Lenin.

      1. So a white prof has been upbraided for an appropriate reading to her class of “nigger” as contained in a historical document. And the point made is that black profs can say this but not white profs. And on top of it, the demand is that the white prof prove she’s been through some racial sensitivity training and oh, by the way,, she didn’t denounce Brandenburg harshly enough. Imbecility rears its head. I’d tell any such complainant, “Stick it up your where the sun don’t shine.”

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