Kathleen Brosnan, an Oklahoma University faculty member in the history department, read from a 1920’s U.S. Senate document that included the word “nigger”multiple times. In another episode, Peter Gade, director of graduate studies for the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and Gaylord Family endowed chair, compared the use of “nigger” to current use of the phrase “OK, boomer.” (Interesting analogy! Ill-advised, but interesting…) Nobody contends that the word was aimed at any individual or intended to denigrate a race. Nonetheless, laboring under the misconception that words can be banned in the United States, campus protesters calling themselves the “Black Emergency Response Team,” or BERT, have issued a set of demands including the immediate resignation of Provost Kyle Harper, mandatory diversity training for faculty and a new multicultural center.
At one point they also demanded a Popeye’s restaurant on campus, but that one seems to have been abandoned as trivializing their cause.
The protestors have begun a hunger strike—no, not just no Popeye’s: behave!—- and have pledged not to leave the administration building they are occupying until their demands are met.( Boy, am I having flashbacks to Harvard Yard, 1968! )Foolishly, the university’s interim President Joseph Harroz Jr. has apologized for both incidents, calling them unacceptable. (It is not “unacceptable’ to use any word for legitimate pedagogical purposes at a university ) and pledged to require all faculty to undergo diversity training. Here is an excerpt from his letter:
“We are all weary of racially charged incidents occurring within our university community could have made the point without reciting the actual word, [but] she chose otherwise. Her issuance of a ‘trigger warning’ before her recitation does not lessen the pain caused by the use of the word. For students in the class, as well as members of our community, this was another painful experience. It is common sense to avoid uttering the most offensive word in the English language, especially in an environment where the speaker holds the power.”
He is a spineless, principle-free coward, and if the faculty was any better, it would demand the HE resign. Naturally, however, many on the faculty are siding with the students, since they are at least partially responsible for them being this way.
As is always the way with such things, the students are dragging in any other grievances against Provost Harper, one going back 20 years:
Earlier this week Harper released a statement saying his office would work to make students feel comfortable while also working to “honor the fundamental boundaries of the First Amendment.’” That is impossible. If students are going to claim that it harms their psyches and ears to hear or read mere words in the context of linguistic, historical or cultural discussions, all an institution should do is inform them that they misunderstand the purpose of education, the necessity of freedom of expression to communicate ideas, and the how the world must work to function. Such students should be required to attend a course including the reading and analysis of “Huckleberry Finn” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin, “as well as required viewings of “In the Heat of the Night” and “Blazing Saddles,” or, in the alternative, to find another place to get their college degrees.
Since the acting president has already apologized, however, such a rational resolution appears unlikely.