At the beginning of this semester, controversy erupted over Professor Lawrence Rosen’s use of the word ‘n****r’ in a lecture for his anthropology class, ANT 212: Cultural Freedoms - Hate Speech, Blasphemy, and Pornography. As a Board, we have attempted to read and listen to all campus discourse and commentary on the subject, especially to pieces submitted to the The Daily Princetonian both as news articles and Op-Eds. Members of the Board also obtained and listened to a full recording of the lecture. After careful consideration, the Board finds while Rosen’s use of the word “n****r” fell within his pedagogical rights as a tenured professor, it was unnecessary to the teaching of his lesson.
Under the law, people are at liberty to use provocative, offensive, and frankly malicious language. As a professor, Rosen retains the right to determine his own pedagogy. These facts are not in dispute, and Department of Anthropology Chair Carolyn Rouse and University President Eisgruber have defended Rosen’s pedagogic right to use the N-word.
In his annual letter to the community, published before the controversy, Eisgruber for students and faculty to balance inclusivity with free speech. To that end, Eisgruber selected “Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech,” a book by politics professor Keith Whittington, as the for the Class of 2022. The Board agrees with Eisgruber that our campus must tolerate pluralistic discourse in the pursuit of truth.
Rouse in defense of Rosen’s choice, offering two central reasons for why Rosen’s language was not only necessary, but also effective. She first contended that using the word would help students “move beyond their common sense to see how culture has shaped their beliefs and emotions.” The word, she argued, would help students expand and challenge their perspectives within the span of one short class. She also cited precedent, noting, “Rosen has used the same example year after year,” but that this is the first year that students responded negatively.
This Board disagrees with Rouse. Yes, Rosen’s use of the word ‘n****r’ was pedagogically permissible, but it was not necessary to achieving his goal. The exercise in which Rosen used the N-word was one in which several problematic scenarios were offered, and Rosen asked students to hierarchize each supposed incident by the level of offense. By design, the activity was hypothetical. Yet Rosen’s articulation of the N-word transformed that hypothetical situation into a tangibly offensive situation. Those students did not need to hear the word to understand Rosen’s academic point. One does not need to be punched in the face to know that assault is harmful. Likewise, it is not necessary to feel the effects of hate speech in order to understand it, especially for students who may have suffered its effects in the past. Rosen could have facilitated a compelling and challenging conversation without saying the word ‘n****r.’
Rouse’s point that Rosen has used this language before, without controversy, is irrelevant. Precedence does not imply necessity, nor justification. That the use of the word ‘n****r’ did not upset students in the past is not a compelling reason to use it. And if a white man saying the word ‘n****r’ in front of black students is wrong or unnecessary today, that fact stands regardless of its permissibility in the past.
Emily Erdos ’19
Marcia Brown ’19
Samuel Parsons ’19
Dorothy Zhao ’21
Jonathan Ort ’21
Samuel Aftel ’20
Sebastian Quiroz ’20
Crystal Liu ’19
Isabel Hsu ’19
The Daily Princetonian Editorial Board is composed of senior editors and selected students not otherwise affiliated with the 'Prince.' The Board can be reached at email@example.com.