Students question faculty on racial slur allegations
Katia Bagwell (right) speaking at Faculty Senate meeting, Adanti Student Center, New Haven, Connecticut. Feb. 14, 2018.
Victoria Bresnahan – General Assignment Reporter
After two Southern professors allegedly used racial slurs in a classroom setting, Katia Bagwell, sophomore and vice president of the black student union, said students of color want to feel comfortable and safe in their classes.
“We do not want to walk into a classroom and be afraid of where a conversation may or may not go,” said Bagwell, at the faculty senate meeting on Wednesday.
This meeting follows accusations against adjunct public health professor Eric Triffin who allegedly sang a racial slur in class. According to reporting from Southern News, journalism professor Jerry Dunklee also faced backlash this week after using the n-word in class.
Eva Joyce Spivey, senior and political science major, said this is the 4th conversation students have had with faculty. She said at this point, their stories no longer need to be shared because now faculty needs to do something about the situation.
“Now we are asking you what are you going to do?” said Spivey. “We could tell you our stories. We could tell you what did or did not happen. The alleged use–which it is not alleged, it was used.”
During the meeting, Southern president Joe Bertolino said he hopes Southern does not make the same mistake other institutions have made when addressing these issues.
“We have watched these conversations happen around the country,” said Bertolino. “At other institutions people don’t stop to talk, learn from their mistakes, and then make decisions on how to evolve.”
Students passed out the SCSU Fact Book during the meeting, which stated faculty race and ethnicity information. According to the Fact Book, in 2016, 19 percent of Southern’s faculty were minorities.
Bagwell said students want to know the hiring process of professors and why there are not more people of color being hired as faculty members.
“Is it because they are simply unqualified?” said Bagwell. “Is it a race issue? Is it a fact that they are just not applying for these positions? We have a right to know that. We are paying for the classes we take on this campus.”
Bertolino said he hears students when they say there needs to be more minority faculty. He said he met with the minority recruitment and retention committee, which according to its webpage works to hire and retain minority staff, on Friday to discuss this issue.
“I will commit,” said Bertolino, “to working closely with you to make every effort to make sure we are doing faculty searches, meeting searches, when we are doing leadership searches, in terms of senior leadership–we can do that.”
Eric Clinton, senior and president of Southern’s black student union, said the dialogue of the meeting was not about the use of the n-word in class. The focus should be on why a professional used a racial slur in a classroom setting, he said.
“A lot of the professionals in here believe that this is about a word,” said Clinton, “a single word.
As professors, Clinton said when a student expresses discomfort they should know to stop and reevaluate the situation.
“Both times, the incidents escalated,” said Clinton. “It should have never gotten to that. That is the problem.”
Additionally, Bagwell said since the two incidents occurred in a wellness class and then a journalism class, the n-word should not be used in these types of courses.
“Don’t try to diminish a student telling you that [they] feel uncomfortable in a classroom,” said Bagwell. “Just because of your academic freedom and your pride as a professor. That’s unacceptable.”
Tatyana Andre, sophomore and sociology major, was in class on monday when professor Jerry Dunklee allegedly used the n-word when discussing last weeks incidence of another professor allegedly using the racial slur.
Adre said she asked Dunklee to not use the word because it is disrespectful and makes some black students feel uncomfortable.
“I am saying yes I do respect the fact that if it is an educational setting then yes you may say the n-word,” said Adre. “But first you could say, ‘Hey, warning I am going to use a racial slur.’ and then proceed to say the wording.”
Adre said if a student becomes uncomfortable by the use of the word, a professor should apologize.
“It is traumatic,” said Adre, “the word itself is traumatic to a black person.”
Photo Credit: August Pelliccio