A racial slur was inappropriately used at a conference at the University of Victoria last week.
On Monday, September 13, a speaker read the N word aloud at a British Modern Fiction conference attended by around 50 students, according to one participant. The student, who is racialized, spoke to Black Press on condition of anonymity, aware of the harassment online.
The University of Victoria corroborated the event with a statement posted on its English department’s website. The text was Joseph Conrad’s short story “An Outpost of Progress,” written in 1896 and read to illustrate racist attitudes of the time it was written, according to the student.
After using the N word 20 minutes after class started, “nobody said anything,” the student said. When she stood up to object to its use about five minutes later, “they were all silent and heading forward,” she said. “Honestly, that’s the part that hurt the most… I didn’t feel safe in this class.
The utterance – followed by the sight of a painting depicting burning transatlantic slave trade ships and their disembodied passengers 10 minutes later – prompted the student to leave the class and immediately drop out of the class. Choking, the student said more could have been done to preface the inherently traumatic material from that day’s lecture.
“Obviously we’re in this program, we need to learn more about this stuff,” she said. “I just feel like there was no sensitivity or discretion with (the subject)… I didn’t expect to come on a Monday morning and all of this to happen.”
The course teacher briefed and apologized to the chair of the English department before the student reported the incident on Friday, September 17, she said. Prior to that, she had no idea the university was aware of the incident, she said.
The UVic statement said: “The Chair of English deeply regrets that the use of racist language has occurred in one of our classrooms and is taking steps to ensure that such incidents do not happen again. never”. No mention was made of any action towards the speaker.
The department is considering workshops that would establish best practices for teaching inherently disturbing materials, the statement said.
The student said she will meet with the dean of UVic’s humanities department this week to discuss how to better support students in the future.
“We’re going to talk about how to actually implement these words and not just general statements,” the student said. “A lot of students were justifying it because it’s ‘literature,’ and it’s okay if it’s not addressed to someone. A lot of people think that here, and that’s part of the problem.
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