Paul L. Caron

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Human Rights Watch Fires General Counsel After She Used N-word In Columbia Class, Human Rights Watch GC Loses Her Job After Using the N-Word Repeatedly in a Lecture:

Columbia Human RightsIt’s happened again. Another in-house lawyer has lost her job after using the N-word during an academic hate speech discussion.

This time it was Dinah PoKempner, a prominent human rights lawyer and the now-former general counsel for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based international research and advocacy agency.

While serving as an adjunct professor at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University, PoKempner, who is white, repeatedly used the N-word while discussing “comparative legal treatment of hate speech” during a Zoom lecture. ...

The incident occurred April 1, and Human Rights Watch terminated PoKempner on April 11. ...

Asked if Berman would continue teaching at Columbia, a university representative noted that adjunct professors do not have continued employment when a semester ends. The semester ended last week.

“A student complaint filed with our Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action is under review. We are very clear that classroom discussions must be conducted with civility, tolerance and respect,” stated the representative, who did not provide additional comment. ...

Full statement from PoKempner’s attorney: 
“Ms. PoKempner has dedicated her entire career to the protection of human rights. She used the n-word while teaching a class, solely for pedagogical purposes. She was providing a verbatim retelling of an incident involving the deposition of a KKK witness—by the Southern Poverty Law Center—that she had witnessed as a young legal intern. In that story, a lawyer used the word in questioning a KKK witness, to provoke a like response from the witness and get it on the record, which was important to winning the case. Her pedagogical purpose was to inspire a discussion of whether it is ever appropriate to use such language for the purpose of eliciting hate speech, even for the goal of exposing and combating racism. Following the telling, she told the students that when she heard this over 30 years ago that it shocked her. Unfortunately, she did not consider the shock her students would feel and how this stifled the very discussion she sought to generate. She deeply regrets the impact of her words on students and apologized to them repeatedly in class for her insensitivity, and continues to regret her language.”

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