The discussion prompted students to disagree with the professor. Image: Andy Tyler/Unsplash
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Students felt “completely turned off” and “extremely uncomfortable”

On Sept. 20, the Fulcrum reported on the start of arbitration between the Association of Part-Time Professors of the University of Ottawa (APTPUO) and Verushka Lieutenant-Duval, and the University of Ottawa (U of O). The arbiter will evaluate two grievances filed in relation to Lieutenant-Duval’s suspension by the U of O resulting from the professor’s use of the ‘N-word’ in September 2020.

The same day the piece was published, the Fulcrum received an email from a student who claimed another discussion about the use of the ‘N-word’ was instigated by a professor in a second-year political science course on Sept. 19. 

“The class was having a discussion about the assigned reading that was about Socrates, the philosopher, and his moral reasoning on justice. Then suddenly the professor brought up the n-word by saying ‘like the n-word situation… that’s right I’m gonna talk about it.’ He brought it up as a way to justify all ideas and words to be allowed in a classroom,” said the student, who asked to remain anonymous, as they are still a student within the faculty. They will be referred to as L.D. throughout the remainder of this article.

While the racial slur itself was never used, L.D. said the discussion made them feel “extremely uncomfortable” and “unsafe,” which prompted L.D. and other students to disagree with the professor. 

“A few students actively engaged in discourse with him about disagreeing with his statements, including me. Telling him that he doesn’t have the right to say the word, and regardless of intent, the word is inherently unjust and will always be harmful, and he continued to disagree,” L.D. added.

Another student, who identifies as Black, and also requested to remain anonymous for reasons similar to L.D., decided to leave partway through the discussion, and later made changes to her course schedule as a result of the experience.

“I left class early with an understanding that we would not be learning anything that day,” she said. “The ignorance that was demonstrated in that class made many people think about dropping out of the class. I myself dropped … because I could not be in a learning environment that was actively hostile to Black people.”

In an interview with the Fulcrum, professor Jean-Rodrigue Paré said he intended the discussion to focus on the assigned readings about freedom of expression.

“The discussion was about Socrates, and how Socrates was silenced by the Greek city of Athens for his position. And then, I used John Stuart Mill’s argument, saying that the freedom to express one’s ideas should be unlimited, because we never know if we are silencing someone. We never know if we are silencing the next Socrates.” 

Paré said during the discussion, he also cited Scottish philosopher David Hume’s argument that “ideas, concepts, theories, words, and objects do not hold their own moral value in [and of] themselves.”

“I felt this unease in the classroom … And then I said, ‘Oh, I get it. You’re thinking about the ‘N-word’.’ Then somebody asked me the question, ‘So do you believe that the ‘N-word’ can be used with good intentions?’ I said, ‘Absolutely, because this is absolutely what I believe.’”

The following day, professor Jean-Rodrigue Paré sent an email to students from POL 2107, further elaborating on his statements.

“The argument I was making last night is the following: all words, including the N-word, may be used for just or unjust purposes. What will define the justice or injustice of such use, is the intent of the person who spoke it. It has nothing to do with the word itself, and therefore it is useless to combat the intent by censoring it.”

In Nov. 2021, the U of O released a report by the Committee on Academic Freedom, including recommendations for how to create a common understanding of academic freedom and freedom of expression at the university.

The Committee wrote that it was “against the exclusion of words, works or ideas in the context of respectful academic presentations and discussions whose educational goal is to promote the dissemination of knowledge,” and within its recommendations, said that students should be given advance notice or content warnings before sensitive or potentially harmful topics are broached in class discussions.

The full report is available to read on the University’s website.


  • Yannick Mutombo is the News Associate at the Fulcrum. He recently graduated with an Honours B.A. in Psychology with a Minor in English from the University of Ottawa, and is currently pursuing opportunities in journalism and freelance writing. His interests include, but aren't limited to, people watching; an affinity to oversleeping; establishing soft deadlines. You can find him on Instagram: @thenotoriousself