ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Delores Mullings says she was not surprised by a video posted to social media this week that appears to show an instructor at Memorial University using the N-word as part of an online lecture.
Nor does Mullings, who is the university’s first vice-provost of equity, diversity and inclusion, want to vilify the professor in the video who used the slur.
“We have an education system that's built on colonialism, racism and anti-Black racism,” Mullings, who is also a professor of social work, said in an interview Friday. “So what can we expect from professors when they're educated in that way?”
She added: “That's why we need to change the system.”
In the video posted to Twitter Wednesday night, a teacher says the N-word as part of an online lecture discussing the power of words. The word is also spelled out as an example of derogatory terms on a slide entitled "Systems of Power and Languages."
The school responded the next morning on Twitter: “We are deeply sorry this happened. It is not acceptable and should not be a part of any course material,” the university said, adding that it would immediately begin an investigation. Officials apologized again in a statement emailed on Thursday.
“We are deeply sorry our students experienced anti-Black racism in a classroom,” spokesman David Sorensen wrote. “Anti-Black racism is a systemic issue, and Memorial is committed to redressing anti-Black racism, and to fostering Black inclusion on our campuses, and in our curriculum.”
Mullings said it is her understanding the lecture is from an undergraduate anthropology course, though a university spokesperson would not confirm this.
Last November, dozens of universities across the country signed on to the Scarborough Charter on Anti-Black Racism and Black Inclusion, a pledge to address anti-Black racism. The document requires those signing it to respect certain principles as they develop action plans to foster Black inclusion.
Memorial was among the signatories, and Mullings said she's confident the school is working to implement the charter and address anti-Black racism. She said she also has faith the lecture and its implications won't be swept under the rug.
Though she cautions: "This is not a one-day thing."
The racial slur in the lecture needs to be used as a learning opportunity, Mullings added. "The N-word, no matter when it's used or how it's used by somebody who is not of an African heritage, is wrong. Period," she said.
Sobia Shaikh, co-chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador, agrees. She said in an interview Thursday the video underscores the need for racial literacy among educators at all levels, and for anti-racist educational reform.
Shaikh said there are no circumstances in which someone should use a slur to describe a community they aren't part of.
“There's some learning there for all of us as educators," she said, adding she was heartened by Memorial's prompt response.
She noted the video was posted in the same week the province's Grade 9 social studies curriculum was found to espouse racist myths about immigrants and refugees, prompting Education Minister Tom Osborne to say he was very concerned and that the course would be reviewed.
“This really calls to the need for racial literacy for many of us who are in the public sector,” said Shaikh, who is also an assistant professor of social work at Memorial.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2022.
Sarah Smellie, The Canadian Press