If a professor has said something in class that offended you

It can be daunting to confront a professor who says something that troubles you. But there are steps you can take to begin this conversation, in the hopes of raising awareness and creating a more inclusive classroom.


    If there is a chance that the professor did not mean to cause offense, rushing into a confrontation may close the lines of communication.


    Review the incident with people you trust. They might be able to help you identify what specifically hurt you and the best steps to take going forward. 


    Professors have broad rights to free expression, including those grounded in the principle of academic freedom. You have the right to make your feelings and concerns heard, too. But in many cases, even offensive speech that makes some students uncomfortable could be a form of protected expression. Consider also that moments of discomfort can be instructive and part of the learning process.


    Office hours with professors are not just for discussing assignments. Voicing your feelings and concerns in a one-on-one conversation can reduce the chance of the professor feeling attacked and will often be the best first step toward finding resolution.


    If the professor has used a targeted racial slur or insult and is unresponsive to your concerns, you should feel empowered to inform the dean and/or report the incident to a bias response team if one exists on your campus.


    If this incident seems indicative of a larger problem at your university, consider working with student newspapers, clubs, and governing bodies to raise awareness.


    Your school might not resort to disciplining or firing the professor unless the conduct was egregiously harmful or threatening or involved speech not protected by the First Amendment. The bar for discipline or removal of faculty on the basis of speech is intentionally extremely high, in keeping with the principle of academic freedom, which is central to universities’ institutional mission.

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