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The university has actively worked to understand the facts and listen to the concerns related to a faculty member’s use of a racially charged acronym on a whiteboard last week as part of an Africana Studies class on the African diaspora.

We acknowledge the pain that this word in any form causes for members of our campus community, and we recognize, respect, and are sorry for that pain. We have taken and will continue to take a variety of actions as outlined below, aimed at education, inclusive teaching, and advancing understanding in and out of the classroom.

We will work hard to support our students, staff, and faculty during this difficult time. We must continue our efforts to make ours an inclusive campus, but terminating the faculty member in question will not advance that goal. We are committed to being transparent about the facts, concerns, and actions taken to create inclusive learning environments for all our students, staff, and faculty.

What Happened

On Wednesday, the Africana Studies instructor wrote a racist term on a whiteboard. The term was taken from the title of Tupac Shakur’s 1993 album, where it was used as an acronym. The instructor also spelled out the full text of the acronym. She did not say the word. Even given this context, we acknowledge that people will disagree about whether writing that word on the board, in any form, can ever be an effective teaching tool.

  • The chair of Africana Studies posted a statement about the incident Thursday expressing sorrow and providing the context.
  • On Friday, members of the university’s Division of Diversity and Engagement and Office of Teaching and Learning Innovation facilitated conversations with the students in the Africana Studies class. They also provided students with contact information for the Office of Equity and Diversity should any student wish to lodge a concern privately.
  • University leaders have had discussions with students who were not a part of the class but who raised concern after a screenshot from the class was posted on social media. Some of these students have demanded that we terminate the faculty member’s employment.
  • University leadership has reviewed a 2019 bias complaint relating to an optional assignment in another class taught by the faculty member. The chair of the Africana Studies program at the time discussed with the faculty member the need to provide preparation, context, and warning about the activity in question.
  • The current chair of the Africana Studies program, the vice chancellor for Diversity and Engagement, and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences met with the faculty member last week.

Moving Forward

We acknowledge that presentation of a racial epithet, even within the learning context, has the power to injure. We are committed to listening to the campus community, holding difficult and in-depth discussions on these issues, and implementing what we learn in order to make our campus inclusive. Our decisive actions must be thoughtful, informed, and principled. This is how we are moving forward:

  • Beginning immediately, the faculty member will work with the university’s Office of Teaching and Learning Innovation to improve her presentation of difficult, potentially painful topics in a way that is sensitive to the history and lived experiences of her students and the broader community. The university will provide another instructor for the next two weeks to support students’ continued learning in the class while the instructor begins her work with TLI.
  • The Division of Diversity and Engagement and the Division of Student Life will work in partnership with the Africana Studies program on a series of opportunities to invite groups of students, including students in the Africana Studies major and student organizations, into a discussion about what happened, its context, its intent, and its impact.
  • The Student Counseling Center and the Office of the Dean of Students are available to students to provide care and support resources.
  • While the university has not received a bias report from any student who was present for the class discussion, we have received concerned reports from students who saw the post on social media. The Division of Student Life and/or the Office of Equity and Diversity will respond to any reports that have resulted from this situation directly with the students who file them to discuss and offer support resources.
  • The university will support the Africana Studies program in bringing expert scholars to facilitate discussion of historical and contemporary racial group dynamics and of race and language.

Additionally, we will continue with our previous commitments to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion on our campus, including the development of inclusive teaching resources through the Office of Teaching and Learning Innovation and the transition of the more-than-50-year-old Africana Studies program into a department. The need for the work these scholars do in teaching and research is never more evident than in moments like these as we grapple with where we have been, where we are, and who we want to be.​