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He’s Taught About Racism For Years. He Was Just Suspended For Doing His Job.

A Latino professor who has taught classes on racism for two decades, was suspended after a black student – who wasn’t in his class – came in during a discussion and argued with him about the difference between racial and racist language. That same day, the administration suspended the professor.

San Diego State University professor J. Angelo Corlett has been teaching on topics related to race and racism for two decades and has earned multiple teaching awards, however, nothing can protect a professor from a student complaint about racism.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last week that “On March 1 an unidentified Black student, who was not registered in Corlett’s critical thinking course, stopped by and repeatedly challenged Corlett’s mention of epithets, particularly one regarded as the most offensive slur against Black people.”

Corlett later told The College Fix that he tried to explain his pedagogy to this student who interrupted his class, but was suspended later that day from teaching two courses: “Critical Thinking and Composition” and “Philosophy, Racism and Justice.” He was not suspended from a third class he teaches.

Corlett told the outlet that there is a difference between using and mentioning racial epithets.

“There is a crucial distinction between racIAL v. racIST words based on whether or not we intend racial animus,” he told the Fix in an email.

“When a racIST epithet is USED, it means it is INTENDED to apply to a particular person or group in a hateful or disrespectful way. But when an epithet is merely MENTIONED, it is not at all racist and is a necessary means to explaining why we ought NOT to USE racist language, which is one of my main conclusions,” he added.

Corlett also told the outlet that he – and other students in his class – attempted to clarify to the interrupting student the difference between mentioning a racial epithet and using it, but the person who visited the class refused to let it go.

Corlett further told the Fix that the dean of Arts and Letters at SDSU didn’t ask him what actually happened in his class or even tell him what the specific complaint was about before suspending him from his teaching duties.

In a statement to the Fix, SDSU’s media affairs office claimed that “the news reports do not contain a complete account of what happened in class.”

“After reviewing multiple complaints from students, the university considered the severity of the situation and the support needed for our students, and reassigned the professor. As this involves a personnel matter, the university cannot provide further information at this time,” the school added.

Luke Wood, SDSU’s vice president for student affairs and campus diversity, told the Union Tribune that it wasn’t just one student complaint against Corlett.

“We have had a number of students who have come forward and who’ve complained about their experience in professor Corlett’s classes,” Wood told the outlet. “This has happened this semester but has also been a routine experience. … We took that into account. … This is really a case of a faculty member who is being reassigned. This is not about free expression or academic freedom, but about teaching assignments.”

Corlett told the Fix that he still teaches his political philosophy class but has not received any new assignments.

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