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Debate Erupts at N.J. Law School After White Student Quotes Racial Slur

Samantha Harris, the lawyer representing the woman, said the school would be abdicating its responsibility to train lawyers if it encouraged professors to avoid epithets in all contexts.

“When you’re an attorney, you hear all kinds of horrible things,” said Ms. Harris, a former fellow at FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

“You represent people who have said horrible things, who have done horrible things,” she said. “You can’t guarantee a world free of offensive language.”

Adam Scales, a Black professor at Rutgers Law who has signed the statement of support for Professor Bergelson, said he opposed even voluntary limits on speech. But he said the number of his colleagues who believe racial epithets should never be spoken, regardless of the context, is “not insignificant.”

Using euphemisms like “N-word” to avoid the racial slur, he said, obfuscates its repugnant history.

“There is something extremely antiseptic about the term ‘N-word,’” he said. “There is something that softens the impact.”

The faculty discussions, held by videoconference, have been fraught, he said.

“I can’t imagine a less hospitable setting than a 100-person Zoom call to discuss racism,” he said. “It’s a demoralizing time for everyone involved.”

Professor Bergelson, who emigrated from Moscow as an adult, said her belief that slurs rooted in racism, bigotry or misogyny should be avoided in class stems from her personal history. Her grandmother, she said, was a journalist who was executed in 1950 by the Stalin regime for associating with the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. Another relative was executed in 1952.

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