Western University professor apologizes after student calls out his use of the n-word

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Andrew Wenaus, a Western University professor, has issued a public apology following a student’s widely-shared Instagram story recounting his use of the n-word during a lecture.

According to an apology published by the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, English lecturer Andrew Wenaus “chose to use language that was offensive to those in attendance” but has “expressed his regrets to the university” and requested that the apology letter be published.

The letter states that on Oct. 23 the class watched the first episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with an aim of demonstrating “how a prime-time television sit-com achieved significant critiques of both class and race in America.”

Wenaus says he “wanted to demonstrate how the writing of the show is haunted by a history of exploitation, violence, and terror” and cited a scene with Will Smith and Geoffrey the butler where Will expresses discomfort of being addressed as “Master William.” The apology letter explains that later in the episode, Will refers to Geoffrey as a “home butler.” Wenaus says that “aside from a play on the term ‘homeboy'” he may have been referencing an insult “that historically instigated ‘class division’ between slaves who worked in the fields and slaves who worked in the house.” At this point, Wenaus “used the term ‘House N*****’ to inform the students of the disturbing terminology that was used during slavery.”

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An Instagram post from a student said this incident happened in “a class of at least 100 people, 3 of them being black” and that the white professor said his reason for using the word was “to get a reaction from the class.” The student wrote that she was sick to her stomach and that the only people who “called out the prof” were two black students. She continued, seemingly addressing Wenaus, stating “It’s 2019. You’re a PHD recipient. You know that the N word is derogatory.”

According to the student, Wenaus said it was a “learning experience for him” and asked if her friend “had any resources to give him” — a request that puts the onus on the person of colour to do the work to educate and provide resources to those who claim ignorance.

On Oct. 25, Facebook user Chizoba Julia identified herself as the student who wrote the initial Instagram story that prompted the public apology. She described Wenaus’ use of the N word as “not an isolated incidence of ignorance or racism at Western” and argued that it was Wenaus’ responsibility to “model behaviour, morality and ethics for his students” and that his use of the word and reasoning for it was “problematic, insensitive and ignorant.”

“I am aware of his apology that he has since issued on the Arts and Humanities website,” she wrote, “which I believe is insincere to the core. To begin, the apology was ironically introduced by stating his use of the N word was ‘offensive to those in attendance.” She says the word was “offensive to anyone who understands the racist history of the word” and that it’s impact was not limited to those who were in attendance.

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She added that he said his rationale for using the word was to get a reaction from the class, reasoning he did not include in his apology.

“As a result of leaving out critical parts of the story, this professor has used the school’s platform to invalidate the outrage and anger that black students and many others have expressed online. Our frustration, anger and disappointment is expected to be dissolved by this insufficient apology, but in fact it does the opposite,” she wrote.

“If this professor wants to use the school’s platform to issue an apology he should do so in complete honesty or not do it at all.”

Global News reached out to Chizoba Julia for comment but didn’t hear back as of time of publication.

In the introduction to the apology from Wenaus, the department asks any students who wish to discuss the matter further to contact the dean of the faculty of arts and humanities, Michael Milde.

At the end of her Facebook post, Chizoba Julia says she’s contacted the dean as well as the undergraduate chair of the English department and she encourages “those who care to hold Western up to the standards and values that they claim to have.”

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“We deserve change,” she concludes.

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