Professor quotes racial slur in class, DePauw administration responds

Image via DePauw University

This article has been updated for context.

Article by Abigail McArthur-Self and Olivia Jennings

A Department of Communication and Theatre Studies professor has apologized after quoting a racial slur in one of her classes on Friday, Nov. 5. 

Students from the class reported that the n-word was used in a course when a professor quoted an actor as part of a discussion about motivations for film remakes, according to an email sent by Dr. Lori White, president of DePauw University, in her weekly update to faculty members.

When asked for comment about the incident, Professor Katalin Kis told The DePauw: “I would like to apologize for saying out loud a deeply disturbing racial slur and how the hurt caused by the following discussion magnified the pain that I caused. I am very sorry. I am grateful that many of the students have agreed to meet with me for an in-person apology and further discussion in the next few days.”

Several students from the class involved in reporting the incident refused to comment. 

According to Melanie Finney, the chair of the Communication and Theatre Department, a meeting between Kis and the students in her class was held Friday, Nov. 12. 

On Nov. 7, Dean of Students Bridget Gourley and Communication and Theatre Department Chair Melanie Finney sent a follow-up email to the students of the class, which said, “We are aware of how difficult this experience was for you.” They stated their belief that Kis had “deeply… reflected on Friday’s class,” and encouraged students to resume attending the class. 

Finney continued meeting with faculty and with the students who were impacted. She said, “We in the department are trying to support all of the students in every way we possibly can.” 

Students in any of Kis’ classes will have the option to determine how they wish to finish their course work for this semester. They can continue their class with Kis or work with another professor. “We’ll be reaching out to students later today to present them with flexible options,” Finney said. “I, and my colleagues in the department are very sorry for the trauma and pain our students have experienced and we are working to make sure this doesn't happen again.”

Dr. Lori White, president of DePauw University, addressed the incident in her weekly update to faculty members. She said, “The N-word is a despicable and hateful word that has been used throughout history to dehumanize people who look like me,” and added that using slurs and epithets in classroom settings undermined the goals of pedagogy. 

Later in the email, White commended the students who brought this to the University’s attention for their engagement in dialogue with faculty to develop “a meaningful response.” While the University is working to determine the appropriate course of action, at this time, it is not considering banning the use of the N-word on campus. 

White explained, “It raises questions as to whether books such as John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ or Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ which I read as an English major, could still be assigned or whether a film class could watch a Dick Gregory film that I have watched many times or whether a music critique course or a student listening to music in their residence hall could listen to certain rap music artists.”