University of Kansas professor suspended for using N-word

The University of Kansas incident follows a rise in campus protests over racial discrimination.

Mike Yoder/The Lawrence Journal-World via AP
In this Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, photo, Andrea Quenette, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Kansas, poses for a photo at her home in Lawrence, Kan. Quenette is on paid leave after using a racial slur during a class discussion about race.

A professor at the University of Kansas has been suspended for using a racial slur during a Nov. 12 class.

Five students have filed discrimination complaints with the university against the assistant professor of communication studies, Andrea Quenette, who admitted to using the N-word during a discussion about race.

Ms. Quenette told the Lawrence Journal-World she was telling her graduate students about instances of racism on college campuses, like those recently seen at the University of Missouri in Columbia, when she used the slur to relate them to discrimination at the Kansas campus.

On Nov. 11, the university had held a campus-wide forum on race, an event described as tempestuous by the Journal-World.

One student who attended Quenette’s class said there were nine white students and one black student present when the comment was made.

“I didn’t intend to offend anyone,” Quenette said later. “I didn’t intend to hurt anyone. I didn’t direct my words at any individual or group.”

The incident follows a rise in discontent from students over issues of discrimination and racism on college campuses that have led to protests across the country. Student protesters and civil rights activists say many universities have not gone far enough to create a campus culture of inclusiveness for people of color.

At the University of Missouri, student activists this month forced the resignation of the college president and another high-ranking administrator and are now demanding the institution increases the number of African American faculty members. They're asking that the university raise the percentage of black professors from about 5 percent to 10 percent by 2017-18.

Students on campuses across the country now seem to be using the Missouri protests as a template for their own efforts to improve issues of race.

On Monday, hundreds of students at Brandeis University in Massachusetts occupied an administrative building for a fourth consecutive day, demanding the school’s interim president increase the number of black faculty members and confront issues on race.

Like Missouri, the Brandeis students say that 10 percent of the school’s faculty should be black – a number they say would better reflect the diversity of the student population.

With an upwelling of protests at Ivy League schools like Princeton and Yale, and after a Brown University security officer assaulted a student attending a Latino Ivy League conference in early November, Brown last week released a 10-year, $100 million blueprint to double the number of minority faculty members and improve diversity on its campus.

"Creating a just and inclusive campus community is key to Brown's ambitions as a university," said Brown president Christina Paxson. "Legacies of structural racism and discrimination in our society and on our campus undermine our goals of being a diverse, inclusive and academically excellent community."

Similar demands were made from among the 1,000 who attended the Kansas forum on race earlier this month. The forum was created after protests against discrimination took place in Missouri and as demonstrations spread to other campuses.

University of Kansas Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, who led the forum, told those in attendance she was aware racism still existed on campus, but she did not commit to a specific plan of action.

"I have to hear, I have to evaluate, I have to respond," she said.

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