Professor reads racial slur from song lyrics in CSRE class, sparking backlash

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Outcry from students followed after an assistant professor used a racial slur while reading from song lyrics on a slide in a Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CSRE) class on Tuesday. 

Rose Salseda, an assistant professor in art history, was giving a guest lecture in the course CSRE 196C: “Introduction to Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity,” taught by CSRE professor Tomás Jiménez and CSRE adjunct professor David Kim. 

Salseda played a clip from the N.W.A song “Fuck the Police,” and read portions of the lyrics which contained the N-word from the slide. 

Salseda did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily. Salseda specializes in U.S. Latinx and African American visual art, according to her Stanford profile.

“When she said the n-word a chill went up my spine,” Sydney Reese ’23 wrote in a statement to The Daily. “My chest tightened. I was shocked and confused as to why she said it. It felt incredibly unnecessary because she had already played the song and she had the lyrics on her slides.” 

Judy Tsegaye ’21, a black student in the class, typed a comment in the Zoom chat to express discomfort with Salseda’s actions. 

“I wasn’t exactly comfortable with expressing myself verbally but when I saw other students echoing what I’d said in the chat, I felt like I had to speak on it,” Tsegaye wrote in a statement to The Daily. “I basically just called her out and in response, she got defensive and went on this five-minute ramble about how she was from south-central LA, and how the histories of Black and Brown people are intertwined, and some other irrelevant information.”

Other students echoed Tsegaye, saying that Salseda justified her actions by saying she “grew up in close proximity to black people and black culture.” 

“After that, it felt like the professors (David Kim and Tomás Jiménez) ran to her rescue, talking about the importance of context and other irrelevant things,” Tsegaye added. “I was hurt that the professors, the ones leading the Intro to CSRE course, would try to move past this incident without acknowledging the harm that had been done.”

Students said that Jiménez and Kim did not initially address the usage of the word, and that Jiménez defended Salseda’s comments, invoking “cultural fluidity.”

Jiménez told The Daily that he had been making an observation about cultural influence related to a theme in Salseda’s lecture, not responding to students’ concerns or Salseda’s use of the word. Jiménez also said that he told students that they would discuss the issue at the next class, as the Tuesday class was coming to an end. 

Jiménez and Kim told The Daily that when Tsegaye raised concerns, Salseda apologized, with Salseda saying she was “merely reading the lyrics to the song.”

“We have tremendous respect for the students who raised their concerns as well as those who spoke in solidarity,” Jiménez and Kim added in their statement to The Daily. 

Tsegaye, however, said she spoke up again a second time during the class, this time verbally, but that Salseda interrupted her.

“At this point I was extremely frustrated and shocked, why would you cut a Black female student off while she politely criticizes you for saying a slur?” Tsegaye wrote.

“‘I’m sorry that happened’ followed by a million attempts at explaining your proximity to Blackness is not an apology,” she added. “It’s not my place to teach a grown woman how to take accountability but what she said in class was not it.”

On Tuesday night, Jiménez and Kim forwarded students a written note from Salseda, in which Salseda apologized. 

“I apologize for reading the NWA lyric during today’s lecture,” Salseda wrote. “I’m sorry this was hurtful. I value the comments and responses you have shared, which I take to heart. I will not read that type of text again.”

Video of the incident surfaced on Twitter Tuesday night, prompting some students to express disapproval on social media. 

Reese wrote, “how are you a scholar in African-American art (as a white Latina) and drop the n word in INTRODUCTION TO COMPARATIVE STUDIES IN RACE AND ETHNICITY”. 

In a statement to The Daily, Reese also said, “Considering that the guest lecturer is a non-Black Latinx person, there are important conversations that need to be had about anti-Blackness in the community.” 

Leya Elias ’21 tweeted, “Yesterday, in a class with a leading Black psychologist and professor, the n-word came up and he actively chose NOT to say it. Today, a white Latina lecturer used the n-word without hesitation and defended her use of it by stating her ‘proximity’ to Blackness. #stanfordCSRE.” 

Rebecca Pattichis ’22 said that students in the Latinx community, communicating in a GroupMe chat, expressed disappointment with the incident. 

“Anti-Blackness is perpetuated all the time within the Latinx community,” Pattichis added. “It is upsetting and ridiculous that a class meant to introduce students to comparative studies in race and ethnicity puts students, especially Black students, in an extremely uncomfortable and unsafe situation, when I had the impression that it is meant to be the opposite.” 

On Tuesday night, Jiménez and Kim sent an email to students in the course, saying that students and representatives from the CCSRE department would address the issue and could share concerns at the Thursday course meeting. They also apologized for the incident. 

“We write to say that we very much regret what took place in our class this morning,” Jiménez and Kim wrote. “We want to acknowledge that a term was used by our guest lecturer, Prof. Rose Salseda, that was hurtful to members of our class. While we know that Prof. Salseda acted in good faith, we absolutely recognize the hurt felt. We are sharing these concerns directly with Prof. Salseda, and she takes them very seriously.” 

Jennifer Brody, the director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, sent students and faculty members in the department a message on Wednesday, apologizing for the incident. 

“Please know that we regret deeply that the utterance of a racial epithet produced distress among the class and that a clearer apology was not offered in the immediate aftermath,” she wrote. “We continue to condemn the use of racial and other epithets. We all know that we can be more attuned to the potential for harm in such speech and that the use of the ‘n-word’ indexes the systemic historical and present white supremacist violence against people of African descent around the globe.” 

Contact Sarina Deb at sdeb7 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Lizzie Avila at eaavila ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Sarina Deb '23 is a Desk Editor for News. She grew up in the Bay Area and is majoring in political science. Contact her at sdeb7 'at' stanford.edu