Caitlin Sewell, the former Assistant General Counsel at the University of North Texas, turned in her resignation letter on Friday morning, according to a bulk email sent by Chancellor Lesa Roe and UNT President Neal Smatresk. She was demanded off the stage by students after using the n-word as an example of protected speech at the ‘When Hate Comes to Campus’ event Thursday night.
This incident is not the first to have occurred on the UNT campus and unfortunately, it probably won’t be the last. However, having a faculty member censor herself while using the “f” word yet saying the n-word without a second thought, has shaken a number of students—especially those apart of the black community.
This word has a long history of suffering and hate tied into it. It is a word used to dehumanize and put down a certain community. A community that has endured so much pain from white America. When the n-word comes to mind, tragedies like slavery and lynching come to the forefront. That’s not the fear and discomfort that should be felt by the descendants of those who lived through that abuse.
How can we as a university stand for such blatant hate speech from our own administration staff? It’s sickening that the students were subjected to that kind of hate even if it was meant to be an example.
There was, reasonably, an outcry from the students to have her fired. While she is no longer a member of the staff, it wasn’t the school that let her go, it was the backlash that led to her tendering her own resignation. What does that say for the university, are they still on the students’ side?
Student Government Association along with UNT’s Black Student Union and collegiate chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People made a detailed list of demands for inclusivity and have sent out a petition asking for student signatures. One demand is that the university creates a “comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion curriculum throughout all campus departments.”
Besides the list of demands, the university needs to take action to further prevent incidents like this as well as to let minorities know they are cared for by their university. Just issuing an apology and allotting walk-in counseling services the day after is not enough.
In one of the videos, it can be seen that the Dean of Students, Moe McGuinness, looks as if she’s defending the actions of Sewell and comforting her as she apologizes for the use of the n-word.
It should have been the students she comforted, not the oppressor. The students should be more important to the university. Sewell was in tears not because she said the word, but because she was caught. She didn’t appear to be genuinely sorry for the use of the word and only apologized because the students called her out. However, the student body had every right to do so. It’s 2019, ignorance is no longer a defense.
What can we do as a community moving forward? It’s triggering to know how easily a staff member can say something like that with little consequences from the actual university.
How would we know as the student body how well our university would have protected us if Sewell did not take it upon herself to resign?
UNT is a minority-serving institution. While only roughly 14 percent of the school is African-American, it is still majority-minority, which means there is no place for hate speech. What occurred not only affected the 14 percent but the whole student body. As horrible as hearing the n-word drop from a university employee’s mouth with such ease was, it brought the students together. It’s that togetherness and sense of community that we should keep during times like this.