A communications professor at the University of Kansas was placed on paid leave after she uttered a racial slur during a class discussion on diversity.
Five students had reportedly filed discrimination complaints against Andrea Quenette, an assistant professor of communication studies at the university. Requesting a leave of absence, she was told by the university that, pending investigation, she will have to remain off campus during the period of her administrative leave.
On November 12, during the Communications Studies 930 course for graduate students who teach undergraduate classes, the issue of racism was discussed in the classroom. It was during this discussion when Quenette used the n-word when she was drawing comparisons between events at KU to incidents surrounding racism occurring at campuses nationwide.
“I haven’t seen those things happen, I haven’t seen that word spray-painted on our campus,” she said, as reported by the Lawrence Journal-World. “I haven’t seen students physically assaulted.” She further said that, had anyone spoken up, she would have apologized at the time.
The students were left in “shock and disbelief,” according to an open letter published in Medium last week. When she asked the students to give her more incidents of racist incidents at KU, she was “dismissive” of the examples she was given. After uttering the slur, the professor went on to say “even more disparaging things.” When the discussion steered towards low graduation rates of black students, Quenette claimed that it was solely because of poor academic performance and not systematic racism as the students were suggesting.
The class consisted of nine white students and one black student. Amy Schumacher, a first-year doctoral student, said most students “just shut down” after Quenette’s slur. Schumacher further said she believes that Quenette “actively violated policies,” leaving the one black student “devastated.”
Jyleesa Hampton, a first-year communications graduate student, is one of those who tweeted using the hashtag #FireAndreaQuenette. “People talked about being scared to return to class, scared to have her in charge of their grades,” she said. “I don’t think it will be a safe environment for me” to teach in.
Quenette maintained that her comments weren’t directed to hurt any student’s feelings. “I didn’t direct my words at any individual or group of people,” she said. “It was an open conversation about a serious issue that is affecting our campus, and it will affect our teachers. In that regard, I consider it within my purview… to talk about those issues.”