By Jay Edwards, (he/his/him) Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the Student Government Association.
As a Black person who has decided to dedicate my life to social justice and equity, you could say that I was more than excited to take African American Literature. Excited to learn about the amazing work that came from people that look like me. Excited to better understand my culture and the experiences my predecessors conveyed through writing.
This excitement came to an abrupt end very soon after the start of the class. While quoting “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” Dr. Kristina Groover decided to read out the word “n—-r.” Though she could have made the non-racist decision to skip over the word or even say “n-word,” she made the decision to say it with all the confidence of the master that she was quoting.
Not only did she unapologetically say this hateful and disparaging word, but she encouraged her white students to say it as well. She invited her overwhelmingly white class, at this predominantly white institution, to say a word that every person in that classroom, including her, knew was not acceptable for a white person to say.
Something that only gets worse when having a class discussion revolving around the suffering of my people and the oppression they faced.
Varying emotions flooded into my body during that moment. I was angry, then sad, then angry again, but mostly in shock. The only thoughts racing through my mind were ones of utter disbelief, though this did not surprise me at all. This did not surprise me since our university is known to hypocritically preach about wanting diversity, but doing very little to attain it. This university does not want diversity. They want an opportunity to say that they aren’t racist.
The reason she said it was because she felt comfortable saying it. So comfortable, in fact, that she affirmed her stance against her black students by inviting her non-black students to join in her openly racist antics.
Being the person I am, I realized that this could be a great educational opportunity. After the end of the class, I had not confronted her about her actions. Instead, I diplomatically expressed my concerns and uncomfortability with her saying n—-r, something that I shouldn’t have to do to a person with a Ph.D. and teaching African American literature.
She seemed to have grasped my point of view and even told me that she would be “super conscious going forward.” Though I thought we had come to an understanding on the matter, she continued to use the word in class.
This not only was an extremely racist act of aggression, but I thoroughly consider this an act of violence. Violence, not in the physical sense, but in the way that negatively affects my mental health and my educational experience. I refuse to sit through a class where the professor believes it is fine to disregard the feelings and comments of their black and brown students. And since I cannot sit through that class, I do not get the opportunity to learn at a university that I pay tuition to.
Dr. Kristina Groover made sure to express how much she wanted us to “feel the impact,” of the word n—-r. She did just that.
She made the impact of the word hurt much worse than it already did. As an institution, university, and home to many, once again, App State has failed its Black students. This is just one example of what is happening on our campus and in our classrooms.
After taking to social media to express my concerns, many others shared in my struggle. Dr. Kristina Groover has had an overwhelming amount of her black students express their concerns to her about her repeated use of the word n—– and her invitation to other students to say it.
For years now, this professor has been spewing what is nothing other than hate speech. The context does not matter. The fact that it was written down does not matter. Teaching an African American Literature course does not matter. Context is irrelevant because at the end of the day, a white professor saying n—-r in their classrooms should be more than enough to know that is racist and morally wrong.
This is not a matter of ignorance, it is a matter of hatred toward the wellbeing of black and brown students that was nurtured and fostered by App State.
I have said it before and I will continue to say it, white students do not have to go through these types of struggles. They get the privilege of getting an education uninterrupted by actions that distract from the education, itself.
I don’t want an apology because that is completely useless to me. I want this “educator” to resign as soon as possible and by allowing her to continue teaching, they are condoning her racism. I want actions to be taken by the university to prevent anything like this happening again. But I won’t hold my breath on that.