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  Moreover, the students are suggesting that a black professor could read from the historical documents in the same class but not a non-black professor.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.

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

  1. My comment from yesterday has been excised. Was that because I mentioned Mark Twain?

    1. Also my comment from May Day is now missing. It also spelled out the forbidden word…

      1. And my comment from earlier today, May 3rd. Definitely censorship here on Jonathan Turley’s blog.

  2. If we really wanted to stop drivel shouldn’t we retire “the N” word and put the ugly word nigger out in the ugly world in of it’s ugly meaning?

    1. We should eliminate the n-word out of our Christian desire that the Lord “…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

      Congress has no power to regulate free speech.

      Anything and everything can be accomplished in the free markets of the private sector – the abolition of slavery could have been effected by advocacy, boycotts, divestiture and other economic means, which should have been pursued by Lincoln, rather than the slaughter of 1 million Americans (and no slaves).

  3. 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.

    The professor in question did not USE the word. She pronounced it.

  4. Here are the unconstitutional curriculum headings for Racism 101 in America.
    _____________________________________________________________

    – Denial to Americans of the Freedom of Speech

    – Denial to Americans of the Freedom of Assembly And Its Inverse Segregation

    – Compulsory Integration

    – Forced Busing

    – Affirmative Action

    – Quotas

    – WIC, TANF, HAMP, HARP, HUD, HHS

    – Obamacare

    – “Fair Housing” Laws

    – “Non-Discrimination” Laws

    – “Hate Crime” Laws

    – Dilutive Immigration Since 1790 Naturalization Act

    – LBJ’s “Great Society” (“I’ll have them N—— Voting Democrat For Two Hundred Years”)

    – The “War on Poverty” Which Poverty Won Decisively

  5. “Washington Post “Fact Checker” to Stop Keeping Database of Biden Lies
    The Washington Post will abandon keeping a database of fact-checks of the president less than 100 days into President Joe Biden’s term despite running the database during the entirety of former President Donald Trump’s time in office.

    From the Washington Examiner:

    The Washington Post is shuttering the presidential fact-checking database it launched under former President Donald Trump, just a mere 96 days after the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

    https://bongino.com/washington-post-fact-checker-to-stop-keeping-database-of-biden-lies

    1. The lies of Biden are increasing rapidly. His are actual lies while the Washington Post kept a tally of lies that were actually the truth but conflicted with WaPo stories that were later proven wrong by the FBI.

      1. Michael, first they attacked based on class, but found that didn’t work. Now they attack based on race. That makes them dangerous racists since they don’t care about any particular race rather they use race to obtain their ends. They don’t care how many minority kids die in their cities. They don’t care if those minorities remain uneducated. All they care about is their self-centered dreams where they come out on top and become the master slave holder of everyone else. They are evil to the core.

  6. The new Chosen People are serious about securing speech freedom unto themselves only. Therefore it must be taken away from others by any means necessary. Thus the manufacture of pretext is all the rage.

  7. Either everyone gets to say the words or no one gets to say the words. When only some can say the words, then it is about control, which this whole charade is really about. I am not sure why people in higher education get so worked up. The idea of education is to expose oneself to ideas. Some of those ideas will be offensive. Some will be offended because they can. The closing of the mind is much more offensive than a few words.

  8. Does the Georgetown student who filed the complaint, Mirka Sosa, not realize that future employers typically Google applicant names and that this nonsense means that she will be largely unemployable in the real world? No employer is going to want some grievance seeking, insufferable snowflake around.

  9. That is a great article Squeeky! His writing style is superb and his point is spot on.

    This, then, is my directive: Let us achieve with equal disregard for the limitations of racism and the weight of those of us who threaten to drag all of us down with the clinging nature of their eternal victimization. Our preservation is too essential to be stunted by those unwilling to advance. And in my heart I don’t believe all blacks cannot achieve in the absence of aid any more than I believe the best way to teach a child to run is by forcing him to spend a lifetime on his knees.

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