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Rutgers Law Student's Quotation of Racial Slur Spurs Debate

May 4, 2021

Black students at Rutgers Law School are petitioning for a policy against the use of racial slurs after an incident in which a white student quoted a racial slur directly from a 1993 legal opinion during a professor’s virtual office hours, The New York Times reported.

The petition also calls for apologies from the student, who has not been identified, and the professor, Vera Bergelson, who told the Times she did not hear the word spoken and would have corrected the student if she had.

Faculty at Rutgers, a public university in New Jersey, discussed Friday whether to voluntarily bar racial epithets from being spoken in class, even in the context of quoting court decisions.

David Lopez, co-dean of the law school, has requested such a policy.

"I share the views of several of our faculty members who understand and express to their students that this language is hateful and can be triggering, even in the context of a case, and ask that it not be used," Lopez wrote in a schoolwide email.

Other professors have raised concerns about such an approach on First Amendment or academic freedom grounds.

“Although we all deplore the use of racist epithets,” said Gary L. Francione, a law professor, “the idea that a faculty member or law student cannot quote a published court decision that itself quotes a racial or other otherwise objectionable word as part of the record of the case is problematic and implicates matters of academic freedom and free speech.”

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