The Pulitzer-nominated poet Laurie Sheck, a professor at the New School in New York City, is being investigated by the university for the N-word during a discussion of James Baldwin's use of the racial slur.
The investigation has been condemned by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (Fire), which is calling on the New School to drop the "misguided" box because it "warns faculty and students that good-faith engagement with difficult political, social, and academic questions will result in investigation and possible discipline ".
Sheck, who is white, was teaching a graduate race this spring on "radical questioning" in writing. She assigned students Baldwin's 1962 essay The Creative Process, in which the black American writer and civil rights activist argued that "we have a long look backward whence we and a unflinching assessment of the record ". During the class, Sheck pointed to the 2016 documentary about Baldwin, I Am Not Your Negro, Baldwin's original statement, in which he used the N-word instead of negro during an appearance on a talk show.
Sheck told Inside Higher Education that a student has objected to her language. According to Sheck, she is questioning the student about her objection, who said she had been told by a previous professor that white people should never use the term. At the end of the term, the student gave a presentation on racism at the New School.
Sheck told IHE that she used the word because Baldwin – a New School alumnus – did, and "as writers, words are all we have. And we have to give [Baldwin] he used the word he did on purpose ".
In June, after the class, Sheck says it was called to a meeting where it was questioned about her choice of reading assignments, and how she was prepared for discussing Baldwin's essay. She told the university that a graduate student of a literature race "should be expected to discuss the painful or offensive language and the various implications of altering the words of an iconic writer". As the meeting ended, she was given the university's guidelines for dealing with issues of discrimination and told to familiarize herself with them.
But Sheck told the Guardian that the university is in the process of being investigated by the state of the law.
"I have been left completely in the dark with the accusations against me still actively in place," said she said. "Having learned at the school with a flawless record of constant and unrestricted study of nearly 20 years,
The New School's response to this issue is that it is "a rigorous academic inquiry, a variety of perspectives and respectful debate", and that it "maintains confidentiality regarding personnel issues". When asked by the Guardian if the investigation has been made, it is said that it is so difficult to provide an effective learning environment.
"In the context of the current political and cultural climate, we are bringing together faculty and students to use these principles as a guide to inclusive learning and respectful learning space," he added.
PEN America has joined the fire in calling for the investigation to be dropped. "Some words are so heinous that one can never expect them," said Jonathan Friedman, PEN's project director for campus free speech. "But this is a case where intent matters. There is a distinction between a racial and a human being, and a quid pro quo for James Baldwin. The New School is a discipline that is protected by the principle of academic freedom. "
Sheck said that she is prepared to teach her classes, but not hear from the university.
"PEN has warned them to act against me would be to violate academic freedom. If a university can censor a teacher for quoting James Baldwin and Raising with Graduate Students – who are aspiring writers – the issues involved in changing the words of an iconic American writer people teaching this country, "she said.