A first-year student who wishes to remain anonymous told Imprint she was in Professor BJ Rye’s class when Rye used the N-word and provided new details previously unheard of outside that class.
“We were having a lecture revolving around prejudice, discrimination, and microaggressions in the LGBTQ+ communities. Rye often got off-topic in the class by using parallels or real life examples to aid our learning, but a student spoke up about how the word “gay” could be a positive word if spoken by those within the community often used as a compliment: yet also harmful when used by someone who identifies as heterosexual as a slur for stupid, lame, etc,” the student said.
“Rye then proceeds to talk about the N-word in [the] context of the Black community… but she did not censor herself. She used the full word, multiple times before being interrupted, and it oddly sounded like it was said loud and proud or as if we shouldn’t avoid using it in class discussion.”
Despite being called out by students who were not okay with the usage of the word, Rye continued using the N-word.
“Two students of colour spoke up about how this was making them feel uncomfortable and would prefer her to use an abbreviation. But despite this, she insisted ‘there is no difference between the words gay and the N-word, and this is in an educational context’ and proceeded to recommend them a book (that used the N-word as the title) to the class as if that justified the use of her choice of words,” the student said.
“She dismissed our visual discomfort and proceeded to teach the rest of the lecture. The two students then approached her after class to talk about how that wasn’t appropriate.”
In an article published on Jun. 17, 2020, Imprint reported that Rye will keep her job and not face any disciplinary action according to SJU president Dr. Scott Kline. Kline said that since the N-word was used while teaching a lecture, firing her would go against the convention of academic freedom.
“There’s no disciplinary measure that would hold up to legal scrutiny. Case law in Canada is quite clear around what can be done and what can’t be done on matters like this. And if we were to be engaged in corrective measures that went beyond that, it would create legal exposure for the university,” Kline said.
The student who spoke with Imprint said UW was not doing enough to promote inclusivity.
“I just feel like it’s really careless of them? I just really don’t think they did enough of an investigation to understand the severity of the problem, for example when telling my friends who have also taken classes with her in the past I was told she is known as the N-word professor,” the student said. “Which leads me to think that she has been doing this for years and making students feel threatened, uncomfortable and turned off from taking her classes ever again.”
“She apologized and committed to never use the word again. And subsequently, she chose to enrol in a variety of training seminars through the Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusion office,” Kline said.
“She used the N-word in the context of delivering a lecture on discriminatory words and their effects on various groups of people and in the process of delivering that lecture, she illustrated a point by appealing to the N-word,” Kline said.
“After the class, she met with two students who raised a concern with her. And in the context of having a conversation with them, used the N-word again in reference to a book by a Harvard scholar who identifies as a Black man by the name of Randall Kennedy.”
The student expressed frustration at UW’s handling of the event.
“It’s frustrating to me that despite getting so many people speaking up and signing petitions to get her fired they swept the issue under the rug. They speak about inclusivity and all of these resources you can use if you have ever felt threatened or discriminated against but when it comes down to it, there is no action! Nothing came out of this. She got a slap on the wrist and that’s all,” the student said.
The student also noted that there were discrepancies in the narration of the incident by Kline as compared to what actually transpired. According to a student, Rye recommended the book by Randall Kennedy to the whole class and said that the N-word is very similar to the word ‘gay.’
Rye had apologized to the two students who raised an objection and eventually sent out an email to the whole class, expressing regret.
“A few days later we got an email from her addressed to our entire class apologizing for her actions. It wasn’t very long and it didn’t really feel sincere, almost like she didn’t think it was a really big issue,” the student said.
Kline said that SJU has addressed this issue head-on and did a thorough investigation before taking any decisions while being respectful of students’ opinions.
“We communicated publicly on March 13 that we were looking into the matter. We communicated again when the St. Jerome’s students union tipped us off that they were posting something on Instagram and out of courtesy to them and to the students that were requesting more information, we provided additional information, which is going well above and beyond what would normally be disclosed in that circumstance,” Kline said. “So that was in mid-April. And then we heard nothing more from students or the general public until just in recent weeks.”
The student said other students are also apprehensive about taking Rye’s classes in the future.
“I loved SMF as an elective but being a psychology major and not having to take those classes I will avoid her being a part of my future education at all costs,” the student said.