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The Daily Princetonian letter to the editor from anthropology department chair in defense of colleague


In February 2018, Princeton University professor Lawrence Rosen, who is white, uttered the n-word in a discussion of the word in his anthropology course entitled “Cultural Freedoms—Hate Speech, Blasphemy, and Pornography.” Several students challenged him on his usage of the word and subsequently walked out of the class. In response to the ensuing controversy over the incident on campus, Carolyn Rouse, chair of the department of Anthropology, wrote a letter to the editor in support of Rosen. Rouse defended the pedagogical use of the word in the context of this course while acknowledging and explaining why the use of the word is so particularly charged in the current political climate.

Excerpt from Professor Rouse’s letter (February 8, 2018)

“In the last two years academic institutions have been caricatured as liberal bastions for snowflakes. Actually, that has never been the case. In the Department of Anthropology, for example, our entire pedagogical mission has never been about reaffirming the political points of view of the day, right or left. Our goal is to get students to move beyond their common sense to see how culture has shaped their beliefs and emotions. If our students leave our classes knowing exactly what they knew when they entered, then we didn’t do our jobs. Rosen has used the same example year after year. This is the first year he got the response he did from the students. This is diagnostic of the level of overt anti-black racism in the country today. Anti-American and anti-Semitic examples did not upset the students, but an example of racism did. This did not happen when Obama was president, when the example seemed less real and seemed to have less power.”

Full text

What we like about this letter

  • Exemplifies how department chairs can defend their colleagues’ academic freedom.
  • Affirms academic freedom by defending Rosen’s right to use the word in a pedagogical context.
  • Presents a clear articulation of Rosen’s pedagogical aims in using the word in a course on hate speech.
  • Emphasizes the importance of engaging with uncomfortable ideas.
  • Acknowledges the harm that the word can cause students.
  • Situates the incident in a larger national and political climate.

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