Chloe Gorman, August Pelliccio & Lynandro Simmons – Managing Editor, News Writer & Editor in-chief
Nearly a week after Eric Triffin, a public health professor at Southern, used the n-
word in his classroom, journalism professor Jerry Dunklee faced backlash after his use of
the word in class.
With a whole section of his course and its book dedicated to hate speech, Triffin’s
incident was an opportunity for discussion, said Dunklee.
“Did a student bring the song in, and was it playing with the word n– — – in it? ”Dunklee asked the class. “Or, was the professor using that word on his own?”
At the beginning of each term, Dunklee said he warns students that he uses actual
words of hate speech in the classroom. Despite this, a minute or two after asking, one of his
students told him he had no right to say the word and prompted an apology. Moments later
another student joined in asking him to apologize.
Dunklee said he did not apologize, but hardly had time to if he wanted.
“They left pretty quickly,” said Dunklee, “I asked them to stay.”
Tyler Claxton, a senior communications major, said the classroom was having a
healthy discussion on the topic.
“I thought it was a positive conversation,” said Claxton. “I think it needed to be talked
The controversial subject needs to be discussed more, said Claxton. However, after the
two students left it derailed the conversation momentarily.
“It was so abrupt I didn’t even hear it,” said Claxton. “Professor Dunklee kept it
professional, kept it mature and handled the situation great.”
Still, Dunklee said, it was furthest from his intentions to offend or hurt any of his students
by saying the word.
“I think that precision is better, in our world, than euphemism,” said Dunklee. “In the
context of actual words, in the subject of law, the real words are always better.”
Dunklee, who was teaching a class on free speech, said this is why it has been his
practice for years not to shy away from these discussions when educating.
“I don’t use these terms ever outside of the classroom,” said Dunklee.
After the incident, Dunklee met with President Joe Bertolino to discuss moving
forward. He regarded it as a productive meeting and a valuable experience.
“Let me be very clear,” said Bertilino. “I abhor any of this type of language.”
However, Bertilino said context matters and these situations can be very complex.
“What’s not complex is being sensitive to the needs of our students and caring about
our students,” he said.
If a student expresses his or her discomfort it’s important professors do their due
diligence to remedy the situation, said Bertolino. Students should also be made aware
beforehand if controversial language will be used in the course.
“I think this is a watershed moment for the university,” said Bertilino. “I think this is
an opportunity for the university to have difficult conversations about oppression and
about words. I think it is an opportunity to talk about our culture and what it means to be a
person of color in this community.”
Photo Credit: Palmer Piana