Without safety of Black students in the classroom, there is no academic freedom

academic freedom
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More than 30 professors at the University of Ottawa recently penned a letter in support of Lieutenant-Duval, a white professor who faced backlash after saying the N-word during a lecture. Despite pushback from students, the professor has since been reinstated.
 
This was the wrong call. The University of Ottawa had a chance to side with its Black students and clubs and to show that this type of behavior is unacceptable—in any setting, but especially in an academic one where students from all backgrounds should expect to feel safe.
 
Allowing this professor to get by scotch-free, despite her racist actions, jeopardizes that safety in a psychological sense.
 
Saying the N-word as a white person is never acceptable. Everyone—especially at the college age—knows the implications of the word. Students can read it easily enough on paper in the texts they study. They don’t need to hear it out loud. 
 
The professor—as well as those supporting her—claim that punishing the use of the N-word is a violation of academic freedom, but that reasoning is flawed. Academic freedom doesn’t give you the right to use hate speech; saying the N-word is just that.
 
No matter the intent, when a white person says the N-word, it’s being used harmfully. There are no exceptions to this rule, in an academic setting or otherwise. 
 
Hate speech has consequences in any context, but especially in a classroom. Black students come to university to learn and pay for classes like anyone else. That education is compromised when the academic setting no longer becomes a safe space.
 
Professors using or supporting the use of the N-word in the classroom further disrupts that safe space and shatters any trust they might’ve had with their Black students. 
 
The University of Ottawa should reconsider its passive stance on the incident. In allowing the professor to return to teaching, the university is prioritizing white professors over the safety of its Black students.
 
In future, U of O should also reconsider its hiring process and aim to hire more teachers of colour.
 
Everyone should enjoy certain freedoms in the classroom, but saying the N-word as a white person is not one of them. Rather, students—especially minority students—should have the freedom to feel safe in the university classroom. 
 
The idea that white professors shouldn’t say the N-word isn’t a violation of academic freedom. It’s common sense. 
 
—Journal Editorial Board

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