In April, according to the New York Times, Black students at the public university in New Jersey began circulating a petition calling for the creation of a policy on racial slurs and formal and official apologies from the student and the professor. “At the height of a ‘racial reckoning,’ a responsible adult should know not to use a racial slur regardless of its use in a 1993 opinion,” read the petition, which has been signed by law school students and campus organizations across the country.
The co-dean of the law school expressed support for a voluntary ban by faculty on the use of triggering and hateful language, but other professors argued — reasonably, to our mind — that such a policy would be at odds with the First Amendment, academic freedom and the mission of the university. “Although we all deplore the use of racist epithets,” said Gary L. Francione, a law professor, “the idea that a faculty member or law student cannot quote a published court decision that itself quotes a racial or other otherwise objectionable word as part of the record of the case is problematic and implicates matters of academic freedom and free speech.”
What is needed is not more policies or rules but common sense, respect and sensitivity. As The Post’s Jonathan Capehart wrote in a column, people need to educate themselves on the ugly history of the n-word — “how that word was used to dehumanize Black people and keep them in their place, how the n-word was likely among the last words heard by Black people before they were lynched” — and then simply avoid using it.
Also in order might be a touch of forgiveness — a trait that Americans were once known for. We think here of the Loudoun County 12th-grader whose acceptance to the University of Tennessee was essentially revoked after a three-second video surfaced of her using a racial slur — when she was in 9th grade. Would the school not have accomplished more with education than punishment? At Rutgers, both the student, a middle-aged White woman, embarking on a second career, and the professor, who said she didn’t hear the remark during the teleconference, have apologized. This, too, would be better used as a moment to teach than to enact speech codes.