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Using the N-Word

Instructor suspended after using slur. Does it matter if he was singing along to a song a student played in class?

February 9, 2018
 
Eric Triffin

Eric Triffin is known for singing and dancing in New Haven, where since 1986 he has been an adjunct in public health at Southern Connecticut State University. He typically begins his classes by asking a student to pick and play a song. Many times he joins in the song and dances to it.

Triffin was suspended this week when he sang along to a song that a student played at the beginning of class, a rap song that featured the N-word. Some black student leaders are calling for the university to punish Triffin for what he did in class that day.

Via Facebook message, Triffin confirmed that he has been suspended and why. "I was singing along with the chorus line ('I am a happy nig-gah'), of a song a student had put on," Triffin said.

Triffin said that his union has advised him not to talk further. But Triffin, who is white, added that he wished to be seen as if he "were neither white nor black, just human."

Word of the incident and the anger of at least one black student in the class quickly spread -- and other students expressed concern.

Joe Bertolino, Southern Connecticut State's president, sent a message to students and faculty members that said he was "investigating the matter fully and will take appropriate action as a result of the findings."

Bertolino also wrote that he would hold an open forum on the incident. He added that "as a public institution dedicated to the values of social justice, our university abhors the use of racist or hateful words and actions and we will confront these incidents if and when they occur. I ask you again to join me in promoting a campus environment based on acceptance and understanding -- one in which every member of our community feels valued and is treated with dignity and respect."

Eric Clinton, president of the Black Student Union, posted a video on Facebook in which he said that "students of color should not be subjected to faculty and staff using racial slurs during the process of their education." Such slurs impede education and create a hostile environment, he said.

"Too many times, black and minority students have been treated like second-class citizens," he said, adding that "we will not stand for the racist remarks that come from the faculty or any member of the SCSU community."

Clinton also criticized unspecified "racist practices" at the university and said that the Black Student Union would push for "equal grading" and "equal hiring."

Until this week, Triffin has been popular on campus. A profile of him in the student newspaper in 2015 had the headline "Southern's Unsung Hero."

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