We owe PAW great thanks for the article on the “Classroom Clash” (On the Campus, March 21). It offers fascinating insight into the campus culture — moral, intellectual, ethical. I heartily second the University’s statement of support, which affirmed the values of “vigorous engagement and robust debate.” It is always good, as Finley Peter Dunne urged a century ago, “to afflict the comfortable.” In this case, that meant causing today’s students, who I fear may be too fond of safe spaces, to squirm in some discomfort. Professor Lawrence Rosen was doing a good thing to challenge his students. Nor should they have been surprised that the incident occurred in a course examining “cultural freedoms” and subtitled “hate speech.”
But I also want to offer some “comfort” to the “afflicted” students (a practice Dunne also recommended). Why did Professor Rosen feel it productive to voice the N-word twice more? The first use could serve precious pedagogical purposes; for instance, he might have used the word in a sentence, and then, 10 or 20 seconds later, stopped his lecture and solicited reactions from the class. It could have been a truly revealing moment wherein those listeners could scrutinize their immediate reactions and have a chance to exchange and articulate their “gut” responses.
But to employ it twice more strikes me as self-indulgent. All it accomplished was to drive several students from the room. And the one student who returned simply delivered an obscenity. It is rare when an obscenity, whether shouted or whispered, contributes to a healthful exchange of views. And to stalk out after delivering one renders even that opportunity moot.