English lecturer issues apology for using racist language in class
During a class earlier this week, Department of English lecturer Andrew Wenaus chose to use language that was offensive to those in attendance and not in keeping with Western’s values. Mr. Wenaus has expressed his regrets to the university and has requested that the following letter of apology be shared with the campus community. Any students who would like to discuss this further are encouraged to contact Michael Milde, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities.
Dear Western Community,
On Wednesday 23 October, our class watched the first episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The purpose of the lecture was to demonstrate how a prime-time television sit-com achieved significant critiques of both class and race in America.
I wanted to demonstrate how the writing of the show is haunted by a history of exploitation, violence, and terror. Near the opening of the episode, Will Smith encounters Geoffrey the butler. Geoffrey customarily refers to Will as “Master William” which causes Will discomfort, reminding him of the history of plantations and slavery. Later in the episode, Will refers to Geoffrey as a “home butler.” Given Will’s discomfort with Geoffrey serving him and the reference to plantations earlier in the episode, I mentioned that, aside from a play on the term “homeboy”, he may be expressing an insult that historically instigated “class divisions” between slaves who worked the fields and slaves who worked in the house. In articulating this historical context that was used to refer to one of these two classes of slaves, I used the term “House N*****” to inform the students of the disturbing terminology that was used during slavery.
While the term had been referred to as “N” when it came up in class prior, my use of the full term came spontaneously. I immediately regretted my words and there was some discussion of my choice in class, but I could have handled the situation more thoughtfully. After the class, I discussed the incident further with a couple students and I have since reached out to some other students as well to express my regret and apologize.
I extend my sincerest apologies to all my students, the Department of English and Writing Studies, Western, and the London community. I recognize that my use of the word, regardless of context and intention, is unacceptable in all instances.
I want my courses to be places where students feel respected, safe, and dignified. As such, I have reached out to services at Western to discuss how I might better handle sensitive and serious material in the classroom. I pledge to do better and I am committed to doing everything I can to regain the trust of my students.
Campus community members are welcome to contact Western’s Equity and Human Rights Service (EHRS). The staff at EHRS is dedicated to making Western an equitable, safe and supportive environment for students, faculty and staff. For more information, visit: uwo.ca/equity/.