Duquesne University students upset after teacher used racial slur during lecture

PITTSBURGH — Duquesne University students are upset after a teacher used a racial slur during a lecture.

One student who spoke with Channel 11 said the incident happened during a psychology of gender class. The student claims the teaching assistant said the N-word while reading aloud a quote from writer Sojourner Truth, an American abolitionist and women’s rights activist.

“I know how much that word hurts,” the student told Channel 11. “It was really uncomfortable. Most people were uncomfortable.”

Several students said hearing the racial slur cut through the room like a knife.

The student who spoke with Channel 11 said the teaching assistant justified using the word, saying it was for historical purposes but later apologized.

“She was making excuses for her actions and saying that she didn’t understand how painful that word was, and that’s just not good enough for me in this day ... in 2022.”

In 2020, the university also found itself at the center of controversy after a virtual lesson, led by professor Gary Shank, went viral. During the video, Shank used a racial slur multiple times and even gave his students permission to use the word.

Shank is no longer employed by the university.

“For it to happen a second time, we need to figure out the root. Why are professors so comfortable using that word? And because this didn’t gain as much attention as the first story, it shows they are willing to sweep this issue under the rug,” a Duquesne student told Channel 11.

The latest incident was reported to the university’s bias education response team.

“There are about three or four people of color in the class and the rest are white or white-passing. It was disappointing to see the lack of people who stood up for the Black community,” the student said.

The university sent Channel 11 multiple statements on the issue:

“Students in a ‘Psychology of Gender’ class made a report to Duquesne’s Bias Education Response Team (BERT), regarding a lecture given by a third-year clinical psychology Ph.D. student and teaching assistant. They shared that the instructor said the N-word while reading aloud a quote from writer Sojourner Truth—a 19th century abolitionist and women’s rights activist who escaped enslavement—during a class segment on Black Feminism. The report was submitted on the same day as the lecture and the University responded within two hours.

“The University recognizes that these students appropriately acted in sharing their concerns with the graduate student instructor and subsequently providing the Bias Education Response Team with information so that BERT could provide an appropriate educational response. Information on the matter also was provided to the University’s Chief Diversity Officer and the Dean of the McAnulty College of the Liberal Arts, both of whom met with the parties concerned. The University has invested significant time and thought in developing means for Duquesne students, faculty and staff to engage such issues, and will continue to use its tools and processes to address the matter.

“The graduate student instructor has apologized to the class on at least four different occasions and is taking educational steps to learn from this experience and rebuild trust with her class. The Bias Education Response Team is working with her to provide recommendations and education to assist, and to give support for everyone involved. The University’s Chief Diversity Officer, Crystal McCormick-Ware, continues to work with the graduate student instructor and concerned parties as well.”

- Gabe Welsch, vice president of marketing and communications at Duquesne University

“I commend our students for utilizing the Bias Education Response Team reporting process and everyone involved for respecting how the subsequent educational process can work. The graduate student instructor has engaged with the Bias Education Response Team’s process and is working on restorative steps to gain the trust of the class members. She has taken full ownership of her actions and has apologized to the class four times. She and I have been in regular communication. At the same time, she and the students spoke directly with BERT members. BERT has recommended next steps and we are pursuing them. She has expressed her willingness to learn, listen, and move forward with her teaching career, and her actions have backed up what she has said she will do. For all concerned, this difficult incident has led to important lessons and discussions. For this person, as a third-year Ph.D. student and teaching assistant, this process has been and continues to be a learning experience for her as well.”

-Crystal McCormick-Ware, Duquesne University’s Chief Diversity Officer

Download the FREE WPXI News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Channel 11 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch WPXI NOW