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Avril 13 February 2018 03:00 AM

Students walk out of anthropology lecture after professor uses the word “n****r”
 
A local story that has become a national one:

Students walk out of anthropology lecture after professor uses the word “n****r”

Quote:

According to students, during lecture for the course ANT 212: Cultural Freedoms — Hate Speech, Blasphemy, and Pornography, anthropology professor Lawrence Rosen asked students, “What is worse, a white man punching a black man, or a white man calling a black man a n****r?”

The lecture focused on the topic of oppressive symbolism.

“He was describing what is acceptable as free speech and what is not,” explained Devyn Holliday ’18 in an interview with The Daily Princetonian.

According to students, Rosen allegedly said the word “n****r” twice more as part of discussions after his original question.
The course has been cancelled as of today.

crocoduck_hunter 13 February 2018 03:56 AM

Oops, read the comment section.

Sue 13 February 2018 11:53 AM

If the word was used in context that's one thing, if it was used the way my baby sister used "damn" once upon a time, as in "beavers build dams, right Mom" and similar questions all so she could say a forbidden word then that's another story.

Avril 13 February 2018 11:57 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by crocoduck_hunter (Post 1971860)
Oops, read the comment section.

Meaning you did or you want us to?

erwins 13 February 2018 02:49 PM

He said it was supposed to "deliver a gut punch," and said he would keep using it if he "thinks it's necessary." Both of those suggest to me that he was using the word gratuitously to shock students, even if he was not using it as an epithet at anyone.

thorny locust 13 February 2018 03:35 PM

On the one hand, he was using it in context.

On the other, he wasn't using it as part of a direct quote, or IMO in a context in which it was really essential to use the full word -- especially to use it repeatedly. And he did keep using it, persistently, over the objections of the students.

If he really thought it was necessary to make that gut impact: he made it with the first use. Insisting on continuing to use it seems to me another matter. This isn't an issue of, say, reading Huckleberry Finn and discussing Twain's use of the word, referring to it by initial during the class discussion but reading it in full when quoting a specific passage. It's an issue of the teacher using the word in his own voice.

And if students in the class were asked whether they wanted to see pornography, they should certainly be asked whether they wanted to hear actual epithets.

crocoduck_hunter 13 February 2018 04:23 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Avril (Post 1971871)
Meaning you did or you want us to?

It's a news story about racial issues. What do you think?

Little Pink Pill 13 February 2018 04:40 PM

Quote:

“He was describing what is acceptable as free speech and what is not,” explained Devyn Holliday [...] “According to Salter, Rosen allegedly said in the class, “I don’t think I need to apologize; I did not oppress anyone.” [...] “He said ‘you need to suspend your disbelief for the sake of this class.‘”
I’m trying to figure out what his point was here. What does suspending your disbelief, a term that is used for fanciful story telling, have to do with free speech and oppression? It might all make sense in his mind, but his students’ take away from this is total confusion.

I also think “acceptable free speech” is a bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it? If it has to be acceptable, it isn’t free. Maybe he meant “offensive free speech.”

Either way, I somehow think this individual is not the right person to be lecturing on this issue.

crocoduck_hunter 13 February 2018 05:17 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Little Pink Pill (Post 1971901)
I also think “acceptable free speech” is a bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it? If it has to be acceptable, it isn’t free. Maybe he meant “offensive free speech.”

But there is an acceptable limit to free speech: no shouting "fire" in a crowded theater and all that.

[/QUOTE]Either way, I somehow think this individual is not the right person to be lecturing on this issue.[/QUOTE]

No, he doesn't seem to be.

ganzfeld 14 February 2018 02:14 AM

Quote:

According to Salter, Rosen allegedly said in the class, “I don’t think I need to apologize; I did not oppress anyone.”
Succinctly summarising what much of white America thinks about history.

"I wasn't the actual person who ****ed and ****ed your grandma so you're going to have to sit there and take it while I talk about '****ing and ****ing your grandma'. You're going to have to put aside your so-called feelings about how your grandma was actually ****ed and ****ed so that I can give this talk a little more spice, a little more punch, by actually saying '**** and **** your grandma' as often as possible. If I don't, how will you ever know how you feel about someone talking about ****ing and ****ing your grandma? Hypothetically and rhetorically speaking, that is... Now that we've dealt with the trivia of your overreaction to hypothetical insults against your grandmother, here's the question: Which is worse, someone saying 'I'm going to **** and **** your grandma' or someone actually ****ing and ****ing your grandma? See? By this oh-so-clever-disguise, I have made a non-sequitur sound like a meaningful ethical dilemma."

Little Pink Pill 14 February 2018 05:44 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by crocoduck_hunter (Post 1971905)
But there is an acceptable limit to free speech: no shouting "fire" in a crowded theater and all that.

True, I was thinking in what seems to have been the context of this lecture, Cultural Freedoms: Hate Speech, Blasphemy, and Pornography, etc. What is legal in terms of threatening someone or starting a stampede is different than what is offensive in terms of race, religion, sex, etc.

I might be nitpicking, but I don’t like the terms “acceptable free speech” or “cultural freedoms.” Free speech is about personal freedom, and speech that is limited by cultural acceptance is not exactly free.

crocoduck_hunter 14 February 2018 06:41 AM

I don't know. I've seen a lot of people who keep invoking free speech as a shield from any repercussions after saying something like there's a child sex-trafficking ring in the basement of a pizza place.

erwins 14 February 2018 01:29 PM

I suppose it's possible that he was making a point about "acceptable free speech" by doing something he knew would be deeply offensive and thereby provoking a response of people trying to shut him up. Possibly after they have discussed the value of free speech and/or their commitment to it. Meaning he wanted to show that there is free speech people support but the real test is when you go beyond what people find acceptable as free speech.

But he wasn't putting up examples, or quoting offensive speeches. He personally, as the lecturer in a class, was repeatedly using a term he knew would be experienced as a "gut punch" by many members of the class, and would further be evocative of the very real oppression of a subset of students. (Awesome example, ganzfeld.) He seems to think that not calling anyone by it means he was not oppressing anyone. But casually throwing that word around means something about how you view the feelings of the people it hurts.

And he can't even pretend that he doesn't know it hurts people, because he described it that way himself. He put *personally* making his point above his responsibility to his students as an educator, which not only makes him a jerk, but also a NFBSKtty educator.

thorny locust 14 February 2018 02:20 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by erwins (Post 1971951)
I suppose it's possible that he was making a point about "acceptable free speech" by doing something he knew would be deeply offensive and thereby provoking a response of people trying to shut him up. Possibly after they have discussed the value of free speech and/or their commitment to it. Meaning he wanted to show that there is free speech people support but the real test is when you go beyond what people find acceptable as free speech.

But

In addition to your buts: if that were what he was trying to do a) he only needed to use it once, or, at most, enough to provoke the reaction; but he apparently kept on using it after the reaction occurred and b) as he's cancelled the class, his commitment to discussing the problem seems to be lacking.

-- I just checked; the decision to cancel does seem to have been his.

Quote:

University spokesman Michael Hotchkiss tells NPR the decision to cancel the course after just one week was Rosen's, and that the school exerted no pressure on him to do so.
ETA: that article gives some further background which I think is useful. But it does seem to me that, when faced with a different reaction from the students than he was apparently expecting, instead of adapting to and learning from that he's just refusing to acknowledge the sort of impact he was actually making -- which was I think supposed to be exactly what he was trying to teach. But he's unwilling to learn it himself.

ChasFink 14 February 2018 02:26 PM

At the risk of invoking some wrath, I'm going to take a slightly different perspective here. No offense is intended toward any persons or opinions.

Below I'm assuming the course in question is not required of any particular major program; if it is, there are other considerations.

If a college student signs up for a class called "Cultural Freedoms - Hate Speech, Blasphemy, and Pornography", he or she should expect to be, and consent to be, exposed to examples of all three of these things to a certain extent. You can't learn about something if you can't examine it. If you don't want to examine it, sign up for a different class.

Let's take the race element out of the scenario for a moment. What if a professor said “What is worse, person A punching person B, or person A calling person B an idiot?” The word "idiot" is generally considered insulting, but the professor didn't insult anyone - he described a scenario where someone is insulted. And I don't think multiple uses of the word in discussions of the word itself are inappropriate. (You might argue that the mere sound of the word does not carry much impact; I can assure you that I have known several people for whom it does.)

I expect there would also be students who are very uncomfortable with all manner of sacrilegious speech, but since the course also deals with blasphemy, such speech would also come up.

By the way, this doesn't mean, for example, that a student in "History of Assassinations" should expect to be shot or stabbed - but he or she should expect there might be graphic depictions or descriptions of those acts.

Now all these things being said, that doesn't mean I necessarily want to defend the instructor in this case. If all he did was ask that question, I might. But it seems (I stress seems) that he did want to provoke something, and that he doesn't understand the feelings of the students who took offense. This is illustrated in the apparent fact that he offered students a choice to avoid pornography, but not to avoid racist language. He should tell students to expect both (or, less effectively, find a way to teach without any instance of hate speech to be uttered or displayed in class). The reported imprecision in his own language ("suspend your disbelief"?) implies he doesn't have the talent to navigate this course very well. If his presentation did go as reported - or if it was analogous to ganzfeld's example - then maybe he's not the guy to be teaching this course.

ganzfeld 14 February 2018 03:22 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ChasFink (Post 1971957)
What if a professor said “What is worse, person A punching person B, or person A calling person B an idiot?” The word "idiot" is generally considered insulting, but the professor didn't insult anyone - he described a scenario where someone is insulted.

1) The use of the word is the insult because of the historical use of the term. It has nothing to do with the word idiot or other insulting terms. 2) Even if for some reason someone disagrees with this, there is no reason to use the word (in that way*) so there is no reason to risk offending the rather large portion of the population. (Not only is it not needed but it changes the question because it changes it to one that uses the specific insult in question. Using the word is what the insult was fro the beginning, not necessarily using it against a specific person.) 3) It's a non-sequitur of a question that serves no purpose. "Which is worse x or y?" has nothing to do with the question of why the x (actually and unnecessarily used in the specific question in question) is a bad thing to do or not. What does the one even have to do with the other? (The only possible purpose is as a rhetorical excuse to downplay the insult. Using the actual insult in the question makes it seem that much more obvious. How does someone get in a position like that and not understand this?) "Which is worse (pointing at you, a specific student), I call you a **** or I hit someone?" First of all, please don't call me that. "I'm not calling you that. (Pointing at you again) I'm saying what if I did call you a ****?..." It makes little difference that he claims to be using it rhetorically when there was no reason to ask it the non-sequitur in such a potentially personally insulting way in the first place.

The "needs to be examined" excuse simply doesn't hold up. I don't think in a class about murder threats, for example, the teacher needs to talk about specific threats against some of the members of the class, rhetorical or not. It's just a trope of teaching from silly fiction, nothing to do with how anything needs to be taught.

* If there was any doubt, he could have just used it once, for example saying "when I say 'n-word', I'm talking about the word _____ and I will not be using it in the sentence because, as an anthropologist who studies these things, I'm well aware that many people consider its direct use alone, even in the rhetorical non-sequitur which follows, as a direct insult."

ChasFink 14 February 2018 04:29 PM

Just to be clear, my example using the word "idiot" was an analogy, not a direct comparison. I do understand the level of offense is different with these words. My hypothetical instructor was not making an insult, because he was not directing the word to anyone in the room. Rosen allegedly claimed he was not oppressing anyone because he was not directing the word to anyone in the room. I was saying that IF the use of the N-word was only asking that first question, Rosen's alleged statement is correct.

I see nothing in the article that claims he used any individual student or pointed a finger in his hypothetical example; it was not a case of "I'm not calling you that, I'm saying what if I did call you a ****?"

If you claim that simply saying those two syllables or spelling out those six letters is in itself an insult, no matter what the context or intent, even if it's discussing the history or use of the word, I'm afraid I have to disagree. This gets very close to the (possibly apocryphal, I'm not sure) obscenity trial of Lenny Bruce where he was prohibited from actually entering his routine into evidence on the basis that such obscene material (which hadn't yet been ruled obscene) violates the decorum of the court. Would you ban a word from the dictionary or the history books because its very existence is an insult? I'm afraid that void would be filled pretty quickly.

As far as saying that the "which is worse" question is irrelevant, I can't see how any of us can decide that without knowing the wider scope if the teacher's intentions.

After writing all this I feel compelled to say that I'm not trying to pick a fight with ganzfeld or anyone else. I may disagree with your opinions, but I do respect them as valid. I think I've expressed myself as best I can, so I probably won't say more unless I feel it would add to the value of the discussion.

thorny locust 14 February 2018 05:44 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by ChasFink (Post 1971957)
Now all these things being said, that doesn't mean I necessarily want to defend the instructor in this case. If all he did was ask that question, I might. But it seems (I stress seems) that he did want to provoke something, and that he doesn't understand the feelings of the students who took offense.

I'm not entirely sure that you're disagreeing with me. It seems to me that he did want to provoke something. While a claim might be made that provoking the original reaction was a fair thing to do in that specific class, when he got the reaction he was trying to get, he handled it very badly from that point -- first in insisting on continuing to use the term instead of discussing said reaction without doing so further, since considering the strength of the reaction he got from that particular group of students he should IMO have not continued using it; and second in then shutting down the discussion entirely (or at least trying to) by cancelling the class. He wanted the discussion only on his terms; which means, in effect, that he didn't really want to have it, since it was supposed to be a discussion about the social meaning of the word, but he was unwilling to consider that such social meaning wasn't exactly what he thought it was.

Alarm 14 February 2018 05:45 PM

ChasFink, I don't think idiot is quite comparable. To me a "better" comparison is if he had used the R-word.

as in "the people in the white house right now are all a bunch of R (and the word is not Republican)

Even if he's not directing it at someone, people would still feel disrespected, because they know the word is derogatory.

Unhijackably, I saw an episode of Blackish on TV yesterday that dealt with this same issue. The boss at the company Dre works at made contributions to certain institutions just so he could use certain words think NAACP and the UNCF.

I highlighted the letters in the acronym to make it clear which words he wanted to be able to "use".

ChasFink 14 February 2018 06:20 PM

As I said, I was not attempting to equate "idiot" with the N-word. (And I am getting tired of having to use the word "idiot", which at one time was an acceptable neutral word for the intellectually disabled, but devolved into an insult. Just because I am saying people should be allowed to use offensive words in these contexts doesn't mean I like to do so at length.)

The fact that it took me some time to figure out what R-word you were talking about illustrates exactly why actual words do have to be used in academic settings. If I had been in a classroom and the professor said “What is worse, a reporter punching a White House staffer, or a reporter calling a White House staffer the R-word?” I would have no idea what he or she meant.

As with any word, the existence of the R-word is not the offense, the directed use of it is. Again, you may disagree, but this is my opinion.

And thorny, I think we're in agreement.


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