A Black graduate student at New York University is demanding action after he was told by a classmate that it’s easier to facilitate class discussions without a “Black presence” in the room. Now, NYU’s Silver School of Social Work is acknowledging it has an ongoing issue with “institutional racism” in the classroom.
Student Shahem McLaurin detailed the tense exchange in a Twitter thread posted online this week. McLaurin said he was studying abroad in Paris, France and did not want to miss class. So, he emailed his classmates to see if any of them would be willing to FaceTime him during the lecture.
No one responded.
Baffled by it all, McLaurin told the Chronicle of Higher Education he contacted the student in charge of leading a class discussion that day to explain how to FaceTime him in the future. The response he got surely wasn’t one he expected.
“I am just trying to be honest with you on why we did not end up calling you,” the student wrote in an email. Part of the reason was, “because I found it easier to lead the discussion without black presence in the room, since I do feel somewhat uncomfortable with the (perceived) threat that it poses — something which I have been working on, but it will take more time than I would like it to be.”
McLaurin was outraged over it all, posting screenshots of the email to Twitter.
“You would think NYU was not like this, especially their SOCIAL WORK program,” he wrote. But I guess it is. I’m very tired. I’ve been dealing with this since I started.”
McLaurin wrote that the constant racism he’s encountered, with no help from university officials, had him ready to quit school altogether. He told The Chronicle he has previously voiced concerns to the administration about this particular student, but “to no avail.” Many on social media felt his pain and flooded him with messages of support.
“This is disgusting and it’s heartbreaking that you have to go through this but please don’t drop out,” one woman wrote. “That’s exactly what they want you to do.”
“As a graduate of the same program at
#NYU I’m ashamed to hear this happened to you, [and] as a black man, I’m saddened. This is unacceptable,” wrote another.
On Thursday, school Dean Neil B. Guterman and two associate deans released an open letter to the campus, saying it was “deeply sorry” to hear that a student had experienced “exclusion and bias.” Guterman said that NYU officials had since reached out to McLaurin and the student who sent the email, saying the two have agreed to settle their issues in class.
“No student should experience racism or otherwise be made to feel unwelcome here at NYU Silver. It is antithetical to our School and the social work profession,” the letter read, noting that the incident occurred in “a broader context of ongoing institutional racism at Silver, especially in classrooms.”
It continued: “Notwithstanding efforts to actively address these issues, we clearly have significant work yet ahead. Addressing matters of racism, bias, and social exclusion require firm commitment and collective efforts of us all, and this work must be ongoing.”
This isn’t the first time black and minority students have taken the school to task over these issues. Last year, graduate students launched a “call to action for social justice,” saying the Silver School is still “a hostile environment for many students, faculty, and staff of color,” and that not much has changed.
McLaurin came up with a few suggestions of his own that he believes will help the Silver school address its systemic issues. For one, he feels professors should be better equipped to facilitate difficult discussions on race so that students of color don’t leave class feeling attacked. He also suggested the school should partner with local groups to conduct cultural sensitivity training.
“I had no intentions on leading revolutionary change at my school from Paris but I am a firm believer in accountability and my school needs to be held to that standard,” he tweeted.”