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Interim OU President Harroz condemns professor's use of racial slur; student calls conduct 'absolutely unacceptable'

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President Harroz

Interim OU President Joseph Harroz speaks during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Inaugural Remembrance March Jan. 21.

Interim OU President Joseph Harroz released a statement after an OU professor used a racial slur in class Tuesday.

Peter Gade, director of graduate studies for the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication and Gaylord Family endowed chair, used the racial slur in a senior capstone class, comparing its use to the phrase “OK, boomer.”

In his statement, Harroz wrote that Gade’s words, while protected by the First Amendment, were “fundamentally offensive and wrong.”

“The use of the most offensive word, by a person in a position of authority, hurt and minimized those in the classroom and beyond,” Harroz wrote. “Our university must serve as an example to our society of both freedom of expression and understanding and tolerance. His words today failed to meet this standard. #WeAre speaks for our community; his words today do not.”

Janae Reeves, a broadcast journalism senior who was present in the class, said the slur’s use came as a surprise since they were discussing unrelated topics.

“It was shocking to everybody in that class because we weren't on the topic of race or discrimination or anything like that, or anything historical for that matter,” Reeves said. “We were having a normal class discussion like we do every Tuesday and Thursday.”

While in class, Gade initially attempted to justify his use of the word, but Reeves said it has no place in any setting, particularly an academic one. Hearing the slur used as one of only three black students in the class was especially shocking, Reeves said.

“I love Gaylord to death. That is my college, (but) I'm already one out of three black students in that class,” Reeves said. “So it was only two of us to be in that setting and to hear that — I shut down immediately after he used it.”

After the incident, Reeves said she is unsure if she feels comfortable returning to Gade’s classroom.

“I am definitely on that train of people who do not want to return back to that class. I personally don't feel comfortable going back,” Reeves said. “I did let the dean and his assistants and everyone know that.”

OU Black Emergency Response Team co-director Jamelia Reed said this incident can affect students’ perceptions of the journalism industry.

“Many Gaylord students who are black are talented people, who are going to do great in the industry, but you experience this and it's like, ‘Is this what the industry is going to be like?’” Reed said.

Reed said many administrative figures, Harroz himself and others, have been present in talks about diversity and inclusion at the university, but she asked where the deans are when these discussions are taking place.

“Why are we talking about diversity and inclusion, but it's not being implemented?” Reed said. 

Reeves also said that after the many racist incidents at OU over the past year, which saw few consequences for students involved, the university should now take a harsher stance against racism to prevent further incidents.

“Hopefully the right steps will be taken,” Reeves said, “because like I told them, an example needs to be made out of somebody.”

Editor’s note: Janae Reeves has worked for The Daily previously on the sports show “Out of Bounds.”

Jordan Miller contributed to this report.

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