Racial slur in classroom promptly addressed
August Pelliccio – News Writer
Southern Connecticut State University Wellness class usually starts with professor Eric Triffin dancing, singing and spreading cheer, but when he slipped a racial slur in, several students became outraged.
Triffin’s Feb. 6 class began as usual, with the professor taking suggestions from the students for songs to dance to.
“Somebody played a song by Playboi Carti, that had some profanity in it,” said student Steven White, “and he was doing his thing, dancing to it.”
Along to the tune, Triffin said he indeed sang aloud, “I’m a happy n—–.”
White said he did not take lightly to this, and after a moment’s thought he said he chose not to let such a thing slip by.
“I basically told him, ‘I don’t appreciate you saying that, and please don’t say it again,’” said White. “He went on to justify why he could say it, and I took offense to that.”
Triffin said that his background from a “blended family” warrants his use of the N-word, and that he has felt racism in his family. Triffin went on to explain that the daughter he raised is a woman of color, born to Triffin’s wife and her ex-boyfriend, an African American immigrant.
Triffin said at times, raising his daughter, he sympathized with the racism she felt.
“I use it as a learning experience in the classroom,” Triffin said.
White said upon hearing this justification, he stormed out of the room, yelling and cursing at the professor. White said he later apologized for doing so to Triffin, who still stood by his justification for using the slur.
After hearing word of the incident, president of the university, Joe Bertolino promptly called a meeting in the student center, to hold an open conversation with students about the values of social justice.
Bertolino apologized to the students on behalf of the university, before inviting students to share any feelings they had regarding the incident.
“It’s easy for me to stand here and talk about this; I’m the white man with power here,” said Bertolino. “But know – I understand my privilege.”
Bertolino stressed he wanted all voices to be heard.
“We have got to speak up, we have got to address it and we have got to end it,” said student Robert Heron. “If we don’t then our sons and daughters will have to.”
Many of the students present during the discussion were active members of the Black Student Union organization, but not all shared exactly the same perspective.
“Let’s be real: we use this word every day,” said political science student Ryan Lumpkin. “Black people use the word every day.”
Lumpkin said he recognizes the history of the word, and the power that it has, but that any individual who speaks it should take responsibility.
“I think he should apologize for being a professor and using the word at an institution,” said Lumpkin, “but he shouldn’t apologize for just saying the word.”
Student Jaquan Nelson pointed out some truth in Lumpkin’s statement, but disagreed with his message.
“We all do use that word,” said Nelson. “That doesn’t make it right, it never will be right and it should have never come out of the professor’s mouth.”
Throughout the evening, Bertolino kept returning to his message that Southern is dedicated to transparency and open dialogue. Nelson indicated that there is still room to improve on that front.
“I’m glad it happened,” said Nelson, “ because now it opens up a platform for a plethora of problems that have been happening at Southern Connecticut State University to be talked about.”
Photo Credit: August Pelliccio