A Black Canadian college student says her White professor used the N-word during a class lecture about house slaves and said the “term came spontaneously.”
Andrew Wenaus, an English professor at Western University in Ontario, Canada, teaches a course called Reading Popular Culture, which analyzes the Black culture industry, CBC News reports.
During a lesson, the professor played an episode of the 1990s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to discuss the topic of Black pop culture.
But things went wrong when he began talking about the pre-emancipation era. He compared house slaves to field slaves and used the N-word to get a reaction out of his students, CBC News reports.
“He was explaining that during pre-emancipation, there were house slaves and there were field slaves,” fourth-year Western University student Chizoba Oriuwa told CBC News.
Oriuwa says she’s one of four Black students in the class.
“Then he said house slaves were referred to as ‘house n*****,” she continued. “He said the full derogatory term.
“I was frozen and shocked because I couldn’t believe that he could say the word so carelessly and nonchalantly,” she added.
When another Black student in the class told Wenaus that saying “house slave” would have sufficed, according to Oriuwa, he replied he used the racial slur to “get a reaction” from the class, CBC reports.
“I instantly felt like my presence as a Black student, who sat in the front-row seat, was overlooked,” she said. “I felt devalued. I felt deeply humiliated and angered that he said something like this.”
Oriuwa reportedly spoke privately with Wenaus after the lecture and told him he didn’t have the right to use the word, regardless of context, CBC reports.
Another Black student, Mitch Dairo, spoke out about the incident in Wenaus’ class on Instagram, which was later posted on Twitter.
“A prof really tried to exploit a group of people by using the N word to see what the reaction would be … are Black people experiments,” Dairo wrote. “People in class GIGGLED. The only people that called out the prof were 2 Black students. Everyone else was mute.”
“I used the term House N--ger to inform the students of the disturbing terminology that was used during slavery,” Wenaus wrote in an apology posted on the University’s website.
“While the term had been referred to as ‘N’ when it came up in class prior, my use of the full term came spontaneously,” he continued. “I immediately regretted my words and there was some discussion of my choice in class, but I could have handled the situation more thoughtfully.”
It’s unclear if any sanctions were brought against the professor by the university.
Oriuwa told CBC she felt Wenaus abused “his power as a professor.”
“His apology was inadequate and insincere … By leaving out the critical part of the story, he’s changed the narrative… [and has] invalidated the anger and all the sentiments that Black students have expressed,” she said, adding that the university’s response has been supportive.
“He stripped us of our dignity,” she said. “I just want to see an environment where Black students feel comfortable.”
After Oriuwa spoke out, she began receiving several hate emails filled with derogatory terms, which included an email where she was called the N-word 20 times, according to the school, CBC News reports.
Jennie Massey, the associate vice president of student experience at Western, told CBC News that Oriuwa’s email address was shared on 4chan, an online forum that allows people to post anonymously.
“My colleagues and I take this situation very seriously,” Massey said.
Western’s University Students’ Council and five student associations, which include the Ethnocultural Support Services, the African Students’ Association, the Black Students’ Association, the Caribbean Students’ Organization, and the Society of Graduate Students, are rallying behind Oriuwa in a show of solidarity and support, CBC News reports.
“Together, we stand in solidarity with Chizoba Oriuwa and unequivocally condemn those who cowardly and anonymously attack her courageous decision to speak out about the racism, discrimination, and prejudice she has experienced on Western’s campus,” the student groups said in a joint statement.
“There is absolutely no place for hate and racism on our campus,” the student groups said.
They added, “The negative backlash that followed media stories and dialogue calling out the English Professor’s use of the n-word demonstrates that there is still much work to be done to raise awareness and catalyze critical conversations about systemic and institutional racism at Western.”
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