Randall Kennedy (Harvard) & Eugene Volokh (UCLA), The New Taboo: Quoting Epithets in the Classroom and Beyond, 49 Cap. U. L. Rev. 1 (2021):
Is it wrong for professors to quote epithets in class or in other educational settings? In law schools, this question has arisen as to [the n-word] when a [Wake Forest] professor quoted the defendants’ speech from a leading First Amendment case in a First Amendment class; a [UCLA] professor (one of us) quoted the facts in a rare example of a hate speech prosecution, also in a First Amendment class; a [UC-Irvine] professor teaching a class on legal problem-solving quoted the word in a discussion of Facebook’s implementation of its “hate speech” policy; a [Emory] professor teaching a torts class quoted the facts of a case involving emotional distress and wrongful discharge claims; a [Stanford] professor teaching a class about legal history quoted a statement attributed to Patrick Henry; a [DePaul] professor posed a hypothetical about provocation and self-defense in a criminal law class; a guest [Stanford] lecturer in a class on tobacco regulation displayed and quoted copies of racist advertising; and a professor at Emory University, in discussing discrimination against Native Americans, mentioned that ... had been used as slurs against them. ...
Moved by a recognition that the prevalence of the slurs in American life is an indication of how common hatred of blacks and gays has been and continues to be, and apprehensive about the slurs’ toxicity even in the classroom, some students, professors, and administrators maintain that any enunciation of them is wrongful no matter the context or the intention of the speaker. They maintain that giving voice to those epithets is so hurtful to some that no pedagogical aim is worth the pain inflicted. Thus, some teachers never vocalize the terms, either talking around them or substituting a euphemism such as “the n-word.” ...
There are, however, other words with toxic associations: KKK. Lynching. Nazi. Auschwitz. Genocide. Rape. They are not epithets, but much in life is worse than epithets. Indeed, one reason sometimes given for eschewing any vocalizing of epithets is precisely their association with bigoted violence. The words we just mentioned are at least as clearly associated with the cruelest forms of violence. Yet they are routinely discussed without expurgation or euphemism, especially in the university (and in our own department, law).
We believe the same should be true for epithets. The academy, we believe, should be a place where people discuss the facts—whether of a controversy, a historical document, or a precedent—as they have actually occurred.
May 3, 2021 in Legal Ed Scholarship, Legal Education | Permalink