On Oct. 4, a student in a William Jewell College Critical Thought and Inquiry (CTI) course faced pressure from a guest lecturer to say a racial epithet. Not long after the event, outrage surfaced on YikYak, the popular anonymous social media app. The Hilltop Monitor interviewed multiple students involved in an attempt to uncover an honest account of what happened.
The word was said in CTI 284: School & Society in the United States, which is a Power and Justice course taught by education professor Amy Barth. When the incident occurred, a Black male staff member at William Jewell College who is not a part of the teaching faculty, was guest instructing the class. The class discussion that day centered on race and the power of racially charged words.
The Hilltop Monitor has drawn the following details from discussions with students in the class. We have reached out to relevant faculty, staff and members of the William Jewell College administration for comment, but, as of publication, have yet to hear their respective points of view.
Leading up to the event in question, the staff member had previously been a guest instructor for the class over the course of several weeks. During that time, he prompted students to use racially charged language over several class periods. The language the staff member prompted grew increasingly offensive and derogatory in the classes leading up to the use of the N-word on Oct. 4.
During the first class period, a student in the class claims, the staff member prompted students to direct the word “Black” toward Black students in the room – and specifically to do so as a term with negative connotations. In a second class period, according to the same student, the staff member prompted a white male student to call six Black students “negr**s.” Students report that the staff member then repeatedly prompted a student to repeat the N-word during a lecture on Oct. 4. The N-word is a racial epithet considered hateful and highly offensive by many in the Black community. The student who said the N-word wishes to remain anonymous and has not been in contact with The Hilltop Monitor.
The student prompted to say the N-word initially avoided saying the epithet, then did so quietly after facing pressure from the staff member. Multiple students reported that the staff member’s insistence grew more demanding. The student responded by clearly and more audibly repeating the epithet, the students say. According to anonymous comments made on YikYak, the student said the N-word a total of four times.
The Student Senate and students in the class report that some measures have been taken to address concerns about this matter. On Oct. 11, the class met with Professor Barth and members of William Jewell College administration, including Dr. Rodney Smith, the Vice President for Access and Engagement; Dr. Daniel Jasper, the Vice President of Academic Affairs; and Ernie Stufflebean, the Dean of Students. The Student Senate President and other officers were also present. The Oct. 11 meeting provided students with an opportunity to express their views regarding the Oct. 4 class period and collectively process its impact.
On Oct. 25, the staff member met with students during class to explain his reasons for prompting students to use such words. A student describes how the staff member referenced several influential Black thinkers, including Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois, to contextualize why he conducted the class as he did. The staff member explained his efforts stemmed from a commitment to an “each one, teach one” mentality—a phrase tied to the slavery era, which encouraged enslaved individuals to educate fellow enslaved persons as a way to combat ignorance from a lack of access to education.
A Student’s Perspective
The Hilltop Monitor met with Jewell student Aniya Glenn, one of the students in the class, to discuss the use of racially charged language in the course.
As a Black woman and education major, Glenn provided valuable insight into her own experience in the class as well as that of other Black students in the class. She emphasized that after the Oct. 25 meeting with the staff member, it was clear to her that his error was in the delivery of his instruction. She explained that as an education major, “I understood that he was trying to go somewhere, but I didn’t understand where he was trying to go. I didn’t understand that he was trying to give the words less power, because it felt as if he was trying to give them more.”
During the interview, Glenn expressed concerns about the impact the staff member’s instruction had on herself and other Black students. “Once he started associating the word with me and the other black students, it became more uncomfortable for me,” Glenn said. She further described how another Black woman in the class chose not to attend on Oct. 4 because “she had a bad feeling about going [to class that day].”
Glenn did not hesitate to assert, “It’s unacceptable for a student to feel like it is unsafe to go to class.”
Glenn also reflected on the significance of the use of the N-word in the classroom after the hateful use of the same word on campus last year. She said, “It seems as if whenever racial things happen on this campus, they’re kind of addressed enough [to save face], and then nothing else happens. There’s no true follow-up. No true consequences.” She recognized the administration did respond to the use of the word in the classroom by attending both the meetings on Oct. 11 and Oct. 25. The Hilltop Monitor is also aware of the fact that there was an email sent out to faculty and staff in regard to the matter by education professor Michael Stoll (via Dr. Smith) on Saturday, Oct 7, but students did not receive this message.
Additionally, Glenn would like to see administration and faculty take active steps to ensure a situation like this does not occur again, possibly by previewing the staff member’s lectures, given the sensitive nature of their content, before they are presented in class.
Glenn also had a few words to share with the student body. She shared, “I ask that students actually try to go reach out and see where [the guest instructor] was coming from.”
Glenn concluded her interview with The Hilltop Monitor by giving her final thoughts on the matter. According to Glenn, the use of the N-word in the classroom was “inappropriate, but it was all in the delivery.” She explained that the word should have been delivered in context and its use made clearly optional for the students involved in the exercise. She also stated, “I think if you’re planning on singling out students or a group of students, you need to discuss…what they are comfortable with [ahead of time, especially if they’re a minority group].”
An Interview with the Student Senate President
(Disclosure: The author of this section is on the Cabinet of the Student Senate. The views presented in this section do not necessarily represent the views of the Student Senate.)
The Hilltop Monitor had the opportunity to sit down with Student Senate President Kamerin Hull for The Student Senate’s perspective on the use of the N-word in the class.
When Hull initially heard of the situation, the first thing she did was schedule a meeting with Ernie Stufflebean, Student Senate’s faculty advisor and Jewell’s dean of students, to discuss what the Senate’s response should be to the matter. The Student Senate’s cabinet then attended the class meeting with administrators on Oct. 11.
It was clear as soon as the incident occurred that the Senate was representing student voices. Hull emphasized that “[Senate cares] about the community and we want everyone to feel heard. Those that were negatively impacted, we want to really represent how they felt… If this ever occurs again, [we want students to] know what to do or where to go, [or who] is going to support them.”
The Student Senate did not make an official statement regarding the use of the N-word in CTI 284, though, preferring to wait for an administrative statement. Hull said that “[Senate was going to] give administration [a certain length of time] before the Senate might actively do something about responding to the incident.” College administrators have expressed concerns that issuing such a statement would open them to legal action. Even so, administrators have a duty to respond to such matters, and the Student Senate wants to press Jewell’s administration to respond to this incident, even if an official campus and community-wide statement is not made.
When historical context is provided, Hull explained, students can discuss a racial epithet in an appropriate and useful way. She stated, “If a professor was going to use that word…and say, ‘We are doing this in a historical lens.’ [Students could] understand that we are critiquing this word, we are not… using it or trying to give it any power.”
Hull explained that the epithet has been “historically used to disempower people.” Given the word’s ability to disempower, she added, it is critical that members of the Jewell community acknowledge its negative impacts.
Ethan Naber and Mary Leniton
Writers Leniton and Naber wish to express that whether such epithets are appropriate in any circumstance is a sensitive and important matter of discussion. Whatever one’s views may be, members of the Jewell community must make a good-faith attempt to understand each person’s point of view. We must remain empathetic as we consider the staff member’s decision to prompt the use of the N-word, but also as we consider the position of the student pressured to state the racial epithet.
While the word is certainly hurtful and people may wish to fault the student for using it, the Jewell community must also remember that the student faced pressure from a person in power—the guest instructor—to use the epithet. Students should also remember to maintain solidarity amongst one another and stand up to power when they believe unacceptable behavior has occurred. The Jewell community must do the best it can to build an environment that adequately addresses and, when necessary, condemns unacceptable behavior in classrooms; only then will we progress as an institution.
As of the time of publication, no formal sanctions of the staff member have been announced nor has Jewell’s administration released a formal public statement addressing the incident.