T.A. defends use of N-word in class

By Purbita Saha

The UConn teaching assistant accused of making racial slurs in his anthropology class said that his lecture about the N-word was important because it dealt with a universal phenomenon and the categorization of people in society.

Graduate student Benjamin Purzycki said that he used the profane term during his Anthropology 1000 class, “Other People’s Worlds,” three weeks ago to address racism and ultimately eliminate it. “The argument of the lecture was how insignificant groups of people can be when grouped under a certain category,” he said.

To illustrate this point, Purzycki put a Richard Pryor album cover with the word “Super N*****” and a poster of the Pope saying “N***** Please” in his power point presentation. He then showed a portion of a Chris Rock skit called “N****** vs. Black People.”

“My playing it points to the dynamics of the issue,” Purzycki said.

The rest of Purzycki’s lecture focused on the stereotyping of other ethnicities, such as Native Americans, and classification of in-groups and out-groups based on politics and class. He also delved into the history of the N-word. He said that the Dutch first used it as a way to describe black people. Later, the term evolved to become a racial slur.

Nowadays, we make assumptions about the word, and either abuse it or shy away from it, Purzycki said. For example, when people sing along to rap songs and only leave out the N-word, they contribute to the stereotypical, repulsive nature of the term. But this kind of discrimination cannot be simply explained, Purzycki said – it has to be confronted.

Purzycki said that he was “never motivated by shocking people.”

Therefore, he only said the N-word once in class to quote a friend. He said that the first half of the semester was a disclaimer for all the sensitive issues that the class would be learning about. Furthermore, Purzycki said that he encourages his students to voice their opinions in their discussion sections, and in lecture as well. He also said that he wishes that the student who filed the complaint had talked to him or one of the TAs before going to the associate dean and the newspaper.

Purzycki said that his work is entirely non-racist. As an undergrad at the University of Milwaukee, he put together rallies and other events to support the victims of racist police brutality. He has analyzed changes in Native American culture that have been direct results of U.S. government policies, and has published an article about how humans are constantly subjugating each other.

The teaching assistant said that in the past he has gotten only positive feedback on his presentation.

“Students of all colors have come up to me over the years and thanked me for the lecture,” he said. But Purzycki will consider rethinking his approach to the topic if told so by the anthropology department. Still, he said, “we need to understand racism to do something about it.”

USG Vice President Donald Richards, who also works at the African American Cultural Center, said that he spoke with both Purzycki and the student who filed a complaint against him. After weighing both sides of the issue, he said that he is forced to agree with Purzycki.

Richards said that a “growing concern is that there is a lack of African American history being taught in our educational system and particularly on this campus.” Therefore, he believes that the N-word should be the subject of discussion and debate in UConn classrooms. “If the use of the word ‘n*****’ has not been resolved within the black community for decades, it cannot and will not be resolved on this college campus,” Richards said. “However, it is a very important aspect to the conversation and must be mentioned when discussing race.”

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