Two Emory Law School adjunct professors were accused of using the N-word in their respective classes on Sept. 9, according to Assistant Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs Laura Diamond. The University is “looking into both incidents,” Diamond said.
Although Diamond did not identify the professors, Emory Law School Adjunct Professor Robert Saunooke told the Wheel on Sept. 17 that he was one of the professors who used the racial slur on Sept. 9 while teaching a Federal Indian Law class.
Saunooke, who is a citizen of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the president of the National Native American Bar Association, said he was trying to illuminate demeaning and racist terms used to describe Native Americans during his Sept. 9 class. He told his class that “sand [N-word]” and “red [N-word]” were common racist descriptors used by white Americans to label Native Americans.
According to Saunooke, after he said the slur, a student commented that she was offended by his use of the word. Saunooke said he immediately apologized to the student and explained to her that he was trying to teach an “unfiltered history” of the Native American community.
In an interview with the Wheel, Saunooke said he went to the Law School’s Registrar’s Office after class to report the incident to Assistant Dean for Enrollment Services and Registrar Katherine Hinson. At the office, he also met with Black Law Student Association (BLSA) President Enuamaka Mkparu (20L) and Student Bar Association President Amneh Minkara (20L). Saunooke said he apologized to the students and became very emotional.
That day, Mkparu wrote a letter, co-signed by Minkara, to the Law School community addressing the incident. She did not identify Saunooke by name or mention the second professor who reportedly used the slur.
Mkparu’s letter recounted the incident as reported by students, which Saunooke said was accurate. She also addressed her meeting with Saunooke and referenced Law Professor Paul J. Zwier II’s use of the N-word last year.
“I expressed to [Saunooke] 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,” Mkparu wrote. “I stated that while I could understand the context of the conversation, the use of the word was unnecessary and disruptive to the learning experience.”
The reported incidents come a year after the University investigated Zwier for using the N-word during a class lecture to first-year law students. Zwier was placed on paid administrative leave after reports that he used the slur a second time in November 2018. He remains on paid administrative leave, and his case has been referred to the University’s Faculty Hearing Committee, according a University statement, dated Aug. 20, sent to the Wheel.
Mkparu suggested in the letter that Saunooke attend the next BLSA general body meeting on Sept. 25 to apologize and have a conversation with students. However, Saunooke said he met with Mkparu and Minkara on Monday, and the pair told him meeting with BLSA was no longer necessary.
“They had suggested previously that I meet with the BLSA group,” Saunooke said. “They said, ‘We don’t feel that is necessary. We think you’ve handled this correctly and we’re done with the matter at this point.’”
Saunooke reiterated his apology to the Wheel but recognized his original justification for using the N-word.
“I continue to be very much willing to do whatever is necessary to keep that dialogue, that discourse open,” Saunooke said. “I’m apologetic, but at the same time, the reality for my people is that our history is ugly and tainted and bloody and I don’t filter it because I want it to have the same impact it has on me.”
Mkparu said she was unavailable for an interview. Minkara did not respond respond to the Wheel’s request for an interview by time of publication.