Following Racial Slur, University of Kansas Professor Placed on Leave

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Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs is seen in Princeton, New Jersey, November 20. Princeton students, who have also engaged in protests as of late, have urged university officials to rename the building due to the former president's controversial racial views. Dominick Reuter/Reuters

After a racial slur was uttered during a class discussion focused on diversity, a communications studies professor at the University of Kansas has been placed on paid leave.

Andrea Quenette, 33, is an associate professor of communication studies at the university, where she's been teaching for two years. The incident occurred in her Communications Studies 930 course, intended to teach graduate students tips for instructing undergraduates in their own classes. On November 12th, a student sparked a conversation about how to address issues of racism in the classroom, which evolved into a discussion about campus-wide efforts to eradicate racism.

Quenette, who is white, says she used the n-word when comparing events at KU to incidents that have been making headlines at other college campuses. "I haven't seen those things happen, I haven't seen that word spray-painted on our campus," she told the Lawrence Journal-World. "I haven't seen students physically assaulted. Quenette added that she would have apologized at the time if anyone had seemed put off or spoken up, but people kept silent.

In an open letter published on Medium last week, the students of the class wrote they had been in "shock and disbelief" after Quenette's comment. In addition, they wrote that that the professor had asked for further evidence of racist incidents at KU, but was "dismissive" of the examples students gave. The letter goes on to say that Quenette said even "even more disparaging things" after the slur. The class was discussing black students' low graduation rates. The students were arguing that the problem was linked to systemic racism, but Quenette said that low graduation rates were due to poor academic performance alone.

Following the class, five separate people filed discrimination complaints against Quenette, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. The complaints argue that the professor violated university policy. Students have been calling for Quenette's termination, both in the letter and on Twitter with the hashtag #FireAndreaQuenette.

The day before the incident, the university had held a wide-ranging forum about discrimination and race, reports Associated Press, following protests and discussions at college campuses nationwide.

The administration is currently conducting an investigation, and in that time, Quenette requested, and was granted, a paid leave of absence. She will be required to stay off campus during the investigation.

Quenette holds that academic freedom protects her comments, which she insists were part of the conversation and weren't meant to hurt anyone's feelings. "I didn't direct my words at any individual or group of people," she told the Lawrence Journal-World. "It was an open conversation about a serious issue that is affecting our campus, and it will affect our teachers. In that regard, I consider it within my purview... to talk about those issues."