Thursday, May 18, 2006

To kill a mockingstudent 

You're a law student, and you take a course in negotiations. Negotiations being something adversarial, you might think you'd hear some people use rough language; language matters in negotiation. The DesMoines Register reports that at the University of Iowa's law school, students of color are complaining that a professor's readings which included a racial slur were creating a hostile environment.
The university's Black Law Students Association, a group of 27 students, said in a letter to law faculty, U of I administration and the Iowa Board of Regents executive director that a March 29 incident was "indicative of a much larger problem at the College of Law."
The readings were read aloud in class.
The readings, one from Robert Caro's Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of former President Lyndon Johnson and another a 1964 speech by a black sharecropper named Fannie Lou Hamer, were in context with the course, Jones said, but students may not have been sufficiently prepared to hear the racial slurs.

[Professor Gerald] Wetlaufer apologized to students for not adequately warning them about the readings but said he believes they were relevant to the course, which focuses on the power of language.

"These were not words I used to oppress anyone in the class or promote anyone else's agenda," he said. "This word appears 49 times in 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' I don't think I have crossed some line here."

...Tori Bobryk, a third-year law student who is white, walked out of the class because she was offended by Wetlaufer reading the slur without warning, she said.

"I wish there had been a preface or a disclaimer or a discussion afterward," she said.
The readings are linked to the article. I also find this paragraph in the article.
In another case, a student brought up the idea of reinstating slavery, and the professor, whom Nelson would not name, did not contradict the notion, he said.
If it was my classroom, I would not have said anything and tried to get other students to fill the silence. Remember, this is not a classroom with 18-year-olds from Ottumwa. These are future law practitioners. If you can't stand up in a classroom to someone who suggests something as stupid as reinstating slavery, how do you expect to defend me from criminal prosecution?