Kansas Students File Discrimination Complaints Against Professor Who Used N-Word in Class

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. (
Mike Yoder/The Lawrence Journal-World via AP

A white University of Kansas (KU) communications professor is on leave, after students filed discrimination complaints against her because she used the n-word in class to describe an incident that reportedly occurred on the University of Missouri campus.

In an email interview with Breitbart News, Dr. Andrea Quenette, 33, an assistant professor of communications studies, said that five students – whose names she does not know – filed discrimination complaints against her. She states that one student – who was not even in her class – started a #FireAndreaQuenette hashtag which students have been using on Twitter to urge university administrators to fire her.

Quenette explains the complaints against her were made over her comparison in class one day – during a discussion about racism on college campuses – between racial incidents that have reportedly occurred at the University of Missouri and those at KU.

“I was simply trying to suggest that because racism can be expressed in different ways, KU needs to find solutions to race and diversity issues that are specific to the problems on our campus,” she said. “This term I used is not a word I use, but I used it in this situation only in the retelling of an actual event that occurred on the University of Missouri campus.”

Quenette states that while she used the n-word, she “did not use it to refer to any individual or group of people.”

In an open letter calling for Quenette’s firing for “racial discrimination,” KU graduate student Amy Schumacher wrote that during the class on November 12, while students were “discussing possible ways to bring [race and discrimination] up in our classes…Dr. Andrea Quenette abruptly interjected with deeply disturbing remarks.”

Schumacher, who is white, continues:

Those remarks began with her admitted lack of knowledge of how to talk about racism with her students because she is white. “As a white woman I just never have seen the racism…It’s not like I see ‘Nigger’ spray painted on walls…” she said.

As you can imagine, this utterance caused shock and disbelief. Her comments that followed were even more disparaging as they articulated not only her lack of awareness of racial discrimination and violence on this campus and elsewhere but an active denial of institutional, structural, and individual racism. This denial perpetuates racism in and of itself.

Asked by Breitbart News what the reaction was in her class after she used the n-word to describe a reported situation at University of Missouri, Quenette responds, “When I said this word, I noticed no visible reaction from students. I recall making this point midway through the discussion and we continued a lively conversation about a number of other topics and issues for at least another 20 minutes in the class.”

“Had I noticed students shutting down or had anyone said anything, I would have immediately apologized,” she adds.

Quenette continues:

It was earlier in the discussion while students were sharing thoughts about how to best discuss race in their own classrooms (this course is a pedagogy course for new instructors in our department) that I admitted that due to my racial background, I am not always aware of the challenges others face because of their race. In no way did I deny that racism is real and damaging.

According to Quenette, during a class meeting that followed the controversial discussion, students read their personal statements that asserted the n-word she had used to describe a racial incident had hurt them. The students asked Quenette to read their letter, she says, but would not allow her to read her own statement.

“When they asked me to read their letter but did not allow me to read my own, I saw that as an attempt by them to assert their power in the class,” she explains. “However, I believe this also demonstrated their opposition to having open dialogue, discussion, growth or cooperation. Solving any problem requires people to find common ground and to listen carefully to others. Although I listened carefully to their concerns, they did not listen to me.”

Asked by Breitbart News if she heard any of the black students use the n-word in the class, Quenette replied, “During our class meeting following the controversial class discussion, one African-American student repeatedly used this word in the personal statement she read.”

Schumacher’s open letter goes on:

After Ph.D. student Ian Beier presented strong evidence about low retention and graduation rates among Black students as being related to racism and a lack of institutional support, Dr. Quenette responded with, “Those students are not leaving school because they are physically threatened everyday but because of academic performance.” This statement reinforces several negative ideas: that violence against students of color is only physical, that students of color are less academically inclined and able, and that structural and institutional cultures, policies, and support systems have no role in shaping academic outcomes. Dr. Quenette’s discourse was uncomfortable, unhelpful, and blatantly discriminatory.

Quenette explains:

I was trying to make a point that one of the leading indicators of graduate rates is students’ academic success in the university. I said that students who come into the university with low GPAs or insufficient academic preparedness are those who are less likely to graduate. I explained that these students need greater support from the university in order to ensure their academic success. I currently serve on a committee that has been tasked with assessing issues associated with the College of Liberal Arts and Science’s academic probation and retention policy.

Quenette states she has not had negative interactions with Schumacher prior to this incident and, in fact, described her relationship with her in the past as “cooperative.”

“I have not spoken with Amy since the class discussion – she did not read a statement during the class period that followed the discussion,” she adds.

Lawrence Journal-World reports that Jyleesa Hampton is a first-year communications graduate student who is not in Quenette’s class but did sign the open letter demanding that she be fired.

Hampton says she is one of two black students in the group that started using the #FireAndreaQuenette hashtag on Twitter, and that following the class in question on November 12, some students from the class rushed to tell her what had occurred.

“People talked about being scared to return to class, scared to have her in charge of their grades,” Hampton said. “I don’t think it will be a safe environment for me” teaching next year, she continued.

Hampton said the group began discussing the situation immediately on social media to ensure they were taken seriously, reports Journal-World.

“My concern was that the university or the department may try and sweep this under the rug or not take this seriously because we are students,” Hampton said. “We wanted to create consciousness about the events in question to provoke a response. Social media is a powerful force to bring awareness to instances of racism.”

According to Quenette, she has never had any complaints made against her throughout her career.

“I have always received positive student evaluations of my instruction, positive merit review evaluations and positive peer teaching observations,” she says. “I have not been made aware that any of my views or actions were questionable by anyone at any department I have ever been a part of.”

Asked whether she has received support from anyone at KU, Quenette responds, “I do have a group of faculty members in our department who have been supportive and I cherish them.”

“People nationwide have been so supportive and generous, and I have received emails from faculty and graduate students in all fields across the country sharing their support,” she states. “So many people have generously donated funds to our GoFundMe account and have written many supportive messages. This is a very dark time for me and my family and I am so, so thankful for this support.”

Quenette’s GoFundMe account was set up to enable her to hire an attorney. Her husband – with whom she has two young children – wrote the statement on her account page.

According to Journal-World, university spokesman Joe Monaco said the investigation of Quenette by KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access will determine whether she violated KU policy and the Faculty Code of Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct.

In a separate interview with Journal-World, however, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little admitted it is difficult to define the line between academic freedom and inappropriate speech.

“I don’t think it’s possible to draw that line in a clear way that everyone will agree that this is on one side and this is on the other,” she said. “I don’t think we’re going to get a bright line.”

Quenette tells Breitbart News the situation at hand is not just about her.

“I am afraid about what my situation means for all faculty,” she explains. “With the political and university climate on a hairtrigger right now, I am unsure how faculty are supposed to properly fulfill the mission of higher education institutions. I believe that all educators should take my case as a cautionary tale – at any time, in any moment, regardless of your intent, your entire career may be placed in jeopardy.”


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