Emory University is launching an investigation after a white professor allegedly used a racial slur while discussing a legal case in class.
During an August 23 lecture at the Atlanta school, law professor Paul Zwier was discussing a 1967 civil rights case in which a Black man who was told a “Negro could not be served” at an affair. When the professor asked a Black student more facts about the case, he said the word “nigger” instead of negro, students said. However, the university stated that “offensive language was not part of the case law cited.”
Randy Williams, an Emory student, told CBS46 that first-year law students were shocked.
“This was like the first, or second day of class for them. They were thrown off,” said Williams. “While there may be an explanation on the professor’s side, it was still inappropriate.”
The professor has been replaced in his classes by another faculty member.
Several students, the Black Law Students Association, Emory’s faculty and the university’s president, Claire E. Sterk, aggregated on Wednesday afternoon for the school’s “unite rally.” Zwier was among the faculty at the rally. Students suggested that Emory could make the institution more inclusive by adding more diversity to the staff.
The university released a statement saying that “the use of this — or any racial slur — in our community is unacceptable.” Officials added, “We can — and will — do better.”
Zwier apologized to his students and to faculty members in a letter.
“I feel compelled to make this clear to combat any narrative that would make assumptions that I am a racist or white supremacist or inhospitable towards racial minorities,” the law professor wrote. “I hope you know me well enough to understand, that though a work in progress, my heart is in the right place.”
Zwier released a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I would only add that in today’s environment, where politicians use coded racist language, I would like to emphasize that I condemn their appeals to racist sentiments in the strongest possible terms. That language is meant to divide us and we need to speak out against it.”
The professor has worked at Emory University since 2003.
The Office of Equity and Inclusion is currently investigating the incident while Zwier remains sidelined.