TA accused of making racist slur in class
Published: Sunday, April 24, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 10:04
A UConn professor is taking diversity training and being monitored by the anthropology department after a student filed a complaint against him and alleging that he made racial slurs during class.
"I think these issues are very sensitive, but very important for our society and for the discipline of anthropology," said Sally McBrearty, the head of the anthropology department. "I took the student's complaint very, very seriously."
She said the professor has been reprimanded and was made to apologize to his students during lecture. She also said that he is working with the AACC and Office of Diversity and Equity to remedy the situation.
Professor Benjamin Purzycki teaches Anthropology 1000, "Other People's Worlds." The aim of the course is to analyze contemporary social problems and racial issues. Three weeks ago, Purzycki began his lecture by discussing the cultural relevance of the "N-word." To further his point, Purzycki also showed the class examples of how the n-word has been manifested in pop culture.
First, Purzycki told a story of how back in the day, one of his African-American coworkers used to call him the n-word. He said that his friend used the word as a term of endearment, even though he himself is white. Purzycki then displayed various instances of when the N-word is used and readily accepted in the media. The samples that he used included posters with the N-word superimposed above the images of Richard Pryor and the Pope. Finally, Purzycki played an uncensored clip from Chris Rock's expletive-ridden skit "N***** vs. Black People."
Ozzie Gooding, a 6th-semester exploratory major, is one of the few African American students in Purzycki's class. He said that he felt the professor's presentation was unprofessional ,and that he was close to walking out of the lecture. But instead of making a scene, Gooding decided to take action later on. He went to see Sally McBrearty, the head of the anthropology department, and relayed his thoughts on the situation to her. He said that she was dismissive, however, and that she made him feel like no one was taking him seriously. So he went to the associate dean's office and filed a complaint in regard to Purzycki.
McBrearty, meanwhile, said she was not dismissive toward Gooding, and that she spent a countless number of hours dealing with the situation.
Gooding said that the professor's discussion on race was not productive, as it further perpetuated racial stereotypes. He is particularly sensitive to the N-word and believes that no one should use it. He also said that the lecture was painful because it was presented in a comedic way that made many of the students in the class laugh. "It's hard enough being a minority in class and on campus," Gooding said, "so if you're gonna talk about race, be serious about it."
Gooding is the Multicultural and Diversity senator for USG, is involved with Black Students' Association and plans to join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the near future. He considers himself to be an activist and wants to instigate unity on campus, said that Purzycki's lecture made him feel outraged for the entire African-American community on campus.
By bringing more attention to the incident, Gooding believes that he can expose any racist undertones at UConn. He said that he wants other students to be able to relate to his situation.
"I've seen a lot and been through a lot," Gooding said. "I'm not gonna let anybody harm my civil rights."
Will Kennedy, a 3rd-semester exploratory major, is also enrolled in Purzycki's class. Kennedy said that he felt uncomfortable during the lecture as well, even though he is white. He said that he thinks that Purzycki did not intend to be racist and that he was trying to reveal the cultural importance of the n-word. Kennedy suggested that the professor should use a disclaimer or open the floor up for discussion to allow the class to hear more than one perspective on the n-word.
"He was trying to challenge our views of culture," Kennedy said. But by having so much vulgarity in the presentation, Kennedy said that the professor desensitized the word and stereotyped African Americans. He said that it was the only time this semester that Purzycki didn't get his point across, as a lot of the students misinterpreted his point.
Other UConn students who are not in Purzycki's class also chimed in on the issue. David Daniels, a 4th-semester psychology major, and Shanice Ricketts, a 4th-semester communications major, are involved with the African American Cultural Center. They both said that the professor's words were probably taken out of context and that it is viable for the n-word to be used for educational purposes. "As a minority you should expect a level of uncomfortableness," Daniels said.
Furthermore, the two students said that they were surprised that Gooding did not speak to the professor before filing his complaint.