Emory investigates 2 new cases of faculty using racial slur in class

The main sign leading to Emory University’s campus in Atlanta’s Druid Hills neighborhood.
The main sign leading to Emory University’s campus in Atlanta’s Druid Hills neighborhood.

Emory University is investigating two instances this month of faculty members using a term in their classes that’s often used to disparage African Americans.

The utterances of the n-word, both by adjunct law professors, occurred on Sept. 9, in different classes, Emory officials said. In one situation, a student confronted the professor during the class about the word and the faculty member apologized, the university said.

The ongoing investigations come as the school considers whether to dismiss Paul Zwier, a tenured professor who used the same word, twice, last year. The professors said they used the word to describe discrimination against African Americans or Native Americans, not to disrespect anyone.

Emory University professor Paul Zwier. 
Emory University professor Paul Zwier. 

Emory declined to discuss the status of the investigations, and did not identify the two professors in the latest incidents.

"These events have raised questions and concerns for our community," Emory's law school dean, Mary Anne Bobinski, who started in August, said in a message to faculty hours after the second Sept. 9 incident. "I am writing to ensure that you are aware of the situation and to let you know that a range of law school faculty (including one of the faculty members involved), staff, and other university units have been working to address these concerns."

>> RELATED | Emory professor investigated for using racial epithet again

Emory Black Law School Association president Enu Mkparu wrote a letter to classmates, faculty and administrators after the first Sept. 9 incident saying how “emotionally fatiguing the incidents of last year were and why it is particularly important to be mindful of the use of racially derogatory slurs.”

Robert Saunooke, one of the Emory professors who used the n-word in his class, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a telephone interview Monday he was discussing how Native Americans are “depersonalized” when he used the phrases “sand (n-word)” and “red (n-word).”

Emory University adjunct professor Robert Saunooke. 
Emory University adjunct professor Robert Saunooke. 

Saunooke, who said he is an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, said he has used such phrases in prior years and no students had questioned him about it before. Saunooke was first identified and interviewed by legal newspaper The Daily Report.

Saunooke, who’s still teaching the course, Federal Indian Law and Policy, said he wasn’t trying to offend anyone.

“History is ugly and you can’t filter it,” Saunooke told the AJC Monday.