Students in Peter Gade’s journalism capstone met with Gaylord College leadership as well as university administrators following an incident Tuesday morning in which Gade used a racial slur.
It was the first time students had returned to the classroom since Gade, director of graduate studies and Gaylord Family Endowed Chair, compared the racial slur “n-----” to the phrase “OK, boomer.” However, students came to class to share their feelings about the incident with college and university administrators — a discussion Gade was intentionally not present for.
Administrators in the meeting included Gaylord Dean Ed Kelley, Associate Dean David Craig, Journalism area head Elanie Steyn and Assistant Dean Yvette Walker, as well as Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Belinda Higgs Hyppolite, and Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students David Surratt.
Janae Reeves, a broadcast journalism senior and a student in the capstone course, was present for both Tuesday’s class and the Thursday morning discussion and said that it “absolutely” felt like a productive discussion. Reeves said that she felt she was able to voice her frustrations on the topic with administrators during the discussion.
“To me, I feel like we were heard,” Reeves said. “It’s been a rough few days, and we’re coming to the end of this week as a class and as a collective we already feel like we’ve been through a month of trauma.”
Following Gade’s use of the slur on Tuesday, some students left class while another stood up during the class and told Gade he should not use the word. Other students sought out Gaylord leadership immediately to voice their anger about the incident.
Higgs Hyppolite, who has been in her new role as chief diversity officer for the university a little over a month, said that both students and administrators were really hurting going into the discussion.
“There’s a lot of pain, a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, the whole gamut of emotions are happening,” Higgs Hyppolite said. “I thanked them for being vulnerable about sharing how they feel because no student, no individual, should ever have to experience what they did in that classroom on Tuesday. This is an institution of higher learning and they expect more from us and we should give them more than this.”
Following the incident Tuesday, Dean Kelley had said he wasn’t sure that language had a place in a classroom setting, but that perhaps Gade was using it as an “educational tool,” since the college did not have a record of inappropriate behavior from Gade in the past.
Interim OU President Joseph Harroz said in a statement that Gade’s use of the word was protected by the First Amendment but was “fundamentally offensive and wrong.”
Higgs Hyppolite said she could not speak to whether Gade will continue teaching the class, but that the topic was discussed at length during conversation with administrators.
“I know that there will be accountability and that professor Gade will be held accountable,” Higgs Hyppolite said. “Will that be displayed publicly? Probably not, but what I will say what the students are asking for is very reasonable but I think the biggest takeaway is that (students) want (Gade) to put himself in a position to learn just like they have to learn.”
Reeves said that she, and many of her classmates, agreed that they want to go back to class to continue building a foundation for her future in journalism — but with a different professor.
“This is critical for our future,” Reeves said. “I know that we’d love to return to the class and get an education, however we don’t want it to be with that professor. We do think that it’d be beneficial for him to take some time to learn, go through some trainings. But it wouldn’t be fair to us to have to go and sit there and face him again for the remainder of the semester.”
Reeves said it gave her hope going forward to see so many students from the class speaking out about the incident.
“It was emotional to hear and see my peers have to talk about this again,” Reeves said. “But the faces and emotions of (my peers) were greatly appreciated. As one of the black students in that class, one of the two who was in the class at the time, our allies are amazing. I respect them so, so, so much for having the courage to stand with us. Now the ball is in the leadership’s court, Gaylord’s leadership as well as the university’s.”
Editor’s note: Janae Reeves has worked for The Daily previously on the sports show “Out of Bounds.”
Scott Kirker contributed to this report.