March 2, 2020
To Whom It May Concern:
I am writing this letter in response to Jay Edwards’ “Letter to the Editor,” that was published on February 15, 2020 for The Appalachian Online.
As a minority student who is in Dr. Kristina Groover’s American Literature class (ENG 2350-102) scheduled for 5 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I am aware of the recent issues of the use of racist remarks brought forth by another student in one of her other classes. As someone who is of Mexican and Greek ethnicity, I myself understand the struggle of trying to learn about one’s history despite how dark a people’s history may be and the impact it has had on future generations. When I read the letter written by Jay Edwards directed toward Dr. Groover, I knew in my heart I could not stand idly by and say nothing as it is just not in my nature to do so.
Jay Edwards has called out Dr. Groover on claims of racism and encouragement to her students to use the word n—-r. I, as a student of mixed ethnicities, am here to tell you this: in my experience with Dr. Groover this semester, she has created an environment to make everyone feel welcome to learning. This issue that has been presented arises from Dr. Groover reading a passage from “The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” In this passage, the derogatory word in question is used on multiple occasions in the text. Before reading this passage Dr. Groover clarified and explained to the class that she will be reading the passage as is, so that we as students of higher learning can understand the context as to why Fredrick Douglass chose to write this passage the way he did. Dr. Groover did not use the word outside of reading the text from the passage, nor did she encourage its use by any of her students in my class. None of the other students used the word either, nor was it used again from that point forward. I have had no issues in Dr. Groover’s class and have not once felt alienated or humiliated during my time in her class.
I am not here to dictate whether Jay Edwards should not have emotions about the situation. There are matters today that pertain to my Mexican and Greek heritage that stir up emotions and I am thankful I have parents who are able to explain to me the historical contexts of certain situations as well as their impact on our families throughout generations. History is a subject of pain and torment, and especially so when addressing African-American history in the United States. Unfortunately, it is when we begin to change the context of history that we ultimately lose its true value.
Jay Edwards stated in his letter:
“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.”
I would like to address this issue of context, because in the end it does matter. As a History major, I am adamant that history does matter. In my time as a student of Dr. Groover’s, I have not once heard her speak one word of hate speech. She has not used derogatory terms to any of her students in my class, nor has there been any sort of speaking down on any of her students. First and foremost, context does matter. It matters because in terms of this situation, Dr. Groover read the literature as is (with a preface to the class about why she was doing so) so that all her students can understand why Frederick Douglass worded the passage using the terms he did. She did not speak to any students derogatively, nor did she attack any of her students verbally. The fact that it is written down does matter. It is historical literature written by a man who was a former slave. This provides us with a historical account into the lives of slaves and tragedies of African American slavery. Teaching an African American class does matter. Dr. Groover is not openly using derogatory words toward her students, she was educating her students about the travesties of American history within context to slavery. When you refuse to acknowledge the context of a situation, the true meaning is lost. There is a struggle in history. That is why this type of literature exists. If, as students of higher education, we refuse to acknowledge this struggle, then we will never truly learn anything.
Lastly, there have been calls on social media that Dr. Groover is not qualified to teach African-American literature because she herself is not Black. Does that mean, going forward, that as a History major, I am the only one qualified to teach about the Mexican-American War, the Battle of the Alamo or the rise and fall of ancient Athens and the defeat of the Persians by the Spartans? This is a very slippery slope we are dealing with if we allow such illogical arguments and biased rhetoric to dominate academia. It is my hope that whatever steps are taken to address this issue to ensure students such as Jay Edwards and all students for that matter learn about our past in the way it was meant to be taught, as tough as it may be, that professors such as Dr. Groover continues to be an integral piece in this process so that all matters of history and literature are not censored in the world of academia.
“The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.”
Gregory Lagusis is a junior history major.