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Stanford Law Professor Criticized for Using the N-Word in Class
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A Stanford Law professor is under fire for using racial slur in a class while quoting from the historical source material to illustrate how ‘the south’ used racism to oppose the creation of the Constitution.

Michael McConnell — a former appeals judge, used the N-word in his “Creation of the Constitution” class on Wednesday and attributed it to Patrick Henry, who was arguing against the ratification of the Constitution at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, Stanford Daily reports.

The incident occurred just weeks after McConnell was named a co-chair of Facebook’s new content moderation oversight board-with final say over content moderation decisions including hate speech and misinformation.

  
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Swift criticism of McConnell’s actions ensued Friday after the Black Law Students Association sent an open letter to the SLS community condemning McConnell’s reasoning that history shouldn’t be “stripped of its ugliness.” 

“If there is one thing black students know, it’s our own history,” the association wrote. “Ahmaud Arbery is our history. Breonna Taylor is our history. George Floyd is our history. White men refusing to stop saying [the N-word] is our history.”

According to the Black Law Students Association, McConnell turned off the recording feature of the Zoom lesson during the portion of the class where the racial slur was used.

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The law professor was discussing the Virginia Ratifying Convention when he paused the recording and proceeded to read the apparent quote from Patrick Henry — and then turned the recording feature back on.

More than 50 Stanford Law instructors signed an open letter to students sent by professor Norman Spaulding, Stanford daily reports. 



“I recognize that this pain cuts especially deep at a time when the horrific killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have yet again impressed upon black people their profound insecurity at the hands of the state and their fellow citizens,” the letter states.

Donovan Hicks, BLSA co-President and first-year law student told Stanford Daily that BLSA’s open letter intended to bring attention to McConnell’s actions.

“We want to just make sure that people know this choice was made in this moment because it seems like keeping it quiet does a greater injustice,” Hicks told Stanford Daily. 

“This argument that we shouldn’t sanitize history is moot and ineffective,” Hicks added. “Every day, we as Black students are reminded that we’re Black, both by the color of our skin and by the external events that keep happening. No one really needs to be reminded about their race or the history of racism, especially in the classroom. That doesn’t really create a safe environment. That’s really the larger conversation that we want to have: there’s really no justification for the use of the word.”

McConnell promptly responded in a mail to the Stanford community, writing that he “make[s] it a priority in [his] class to emphasize issues of racism and slavery in the formation of the Constitution, and directly quote many statements by supporters and opponents of slavery.”

“First, I hope everyone can understand that I made the pedagogical choice with goodwill — with the intention of teaching the history of our founding honestly,” McConnell wrote. “Second, in light of the pain and upset that this has caused many students, whom I care deeply about, I will not use the word again in the future.”

According to BLSA, the students shared mixed opinions, including showing support for the professor’s reasoning but highlighting the harm to students of color outweighed the historical rationale to use the word. When asked why he turned off the recording, McConnel responded out of fear that the recording of him saying the n-word might have been used out of context and would go viral.

Jenny Martinez, Stanford Law School Dean described McConnell as “a respected colleague and a dedicated legal scholar” who “cares deeply about his students.”

“Although I strongly disagree with his quotation of the word, he did this for what he believed to be a legitimate pedagogical purpose: to underline the role of racism and slavery in the formation of the U.S. Constitution,” Martinez wrote. “In my opinion, and that of many students and colleagues, this purpose is clearly outweighed by the pain and distress that this epithet, which evokes the horrors of white supremacy, inflicts on students, especially students of color.” 

This is a second incident this year involving a Stanford Profesor using the n-word. Law students criticized a Stanford history professor for using the N-word while giving a guest lecture in a torts class.



 

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