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GW replaces professor who defended racial slur, as ongoing racism frustrates students

Students+in+the+Human+Rights+class%2C+which+holds+39+seats%2C+said+they+feel+%E2%80%9Cshocked%E2%80%9D+after+professor+Michael+Stoil+told+them+he+used+a+racial+slur+during+a+phone+call+with+a+provost.+The+lecture+in+Monroe+Hall+was+captured+on+a+Blackboard+recording+and+obtained+by+The+Black+Ace+Magazine+and+The+Hatchet.+
Hatchet File Photo
Students in the Human Rights class, which holds 39 seats, said they feel “shocked” after professor Michael Stoil told them he used a racial slur during a phone call with a provost. The lecture in Monroe Hall was captured on a Blackboard recording and obtained by The Black Ace Magazine and The Hatchet.

Updated: Sept. 27, 2022 at 6:26 p.m.

Content warning: This post discusses the use of racial slurs and acts of racism on campus. Students can learn more about how to report an incident of hate or bias on the Office of Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement’s website.

A professor is no longer teaching a human rights course after he defended racist comments that he told his students he made to a provost during a phone call.

Students in the Human Rights course said they feel “frustrated” and “uncomfortable” after Professor Michael Stoil told the class earlier this month that he used the N-word while discussing “differential aspects of prejudice” with the official on the phone. After students said they filed at least three bias reports about his remarks, political science department chair Eric Lawrence notified students via email Wednesday that a new instructor would start teaching the course.

Stoil remains an adjunct professor of political science and is listed as an instructor for introduction to international politics, according to GWeb.

Stoil said in an email that he will leave his position at GW at the end of the semester. His email states officials instructed him not to discuss his racist remarks, but he said they failed to support him in the wake of his comments, which he views to be misunderstood.

“The University is no place for a ‘color-blind’ humanist whose effort to get students to think in terms of universal human rights has been so misinterpreted and received so little support from University officials,” Stoil said in the email. 

University spokesperson Tim Pierce did not immediately return a request for confirmation of Stoil’s departure from his position at GW.

Stoil referred to an “ongoing battle” with the provost when he mentioned the call and questioned why using the racial slur would be considered wrong during the class, which was captured on a Blackboard recording and obtained by The Black Ace Magazine and The Hatchet. Stoil was lecturing about human rights theory during the class, which holds seats for 39 students, according to GWeb.

“I used the N-word, and she was horrified,” Stoil said during the class. “She says ‘Oh my God, I felt that viscerally. It ran right through me, you used the N-word.’ I said ‘You don’t listen to hip hop? You don’t listen to some of the street music? They use it all the time.’”

A student in the class responded, “Yeah, but they’re Black people.” Another student seconded their reply while other students nervously laughed around the classroom, the recording shows.

“Ok, I’m Eurasian,” Stoil said in the recording. “Where do I fit in? Can we use it too?”

“No,” students in the class replied.

“You’re right, but the point is I didn’t imagine that she would feel pain from the use of the N-word simply because, by the way, she didn’t know what color I was,” Stoil said during the lecture. “This was on the telephone. I guess I don’t sound Black. Does Barack Obama sound Black?”

Stoil has taught as a part-time professor at GW for five years. Reviews posted to ratemyprofessor.com include criticism from students about Stoil’s disapproval of the Black Lives Matter movement and “rude and insulting” comments on projects and papers.

GWeb states professor Liza Williams is currently assigned to the course, which Lawrence said would receive a new instructor starting Tuesday. Williams did not return a request for comment.

Students said they felt “shocked” that a lecture on human rights had turned into a justification session for using a racial slur that, by the 1800s, had been established as a derogatory term.

“My hands were just shaking, like I just really didn’t know how to react, what to say, what to do and I just felt alone,” Keheirra Wedderburn, a junior in the class, said in an interview. “I shouldn’t have to tell you about racism because I go through it.”

Wedderburn, who is studying political science and criminal justice, did not attend the next class because she did not feel comfortable. She said the incident marked the second time his comments in the class made her feel uncomfortable.

Wedderburn, who has box braids, said Stoil asked in the class of nearly 40 people how long it took to get her hair the way it was during the first lecture. She said she was unsure how to respond but made a joke to revert the attention away from her.

Katie Miller, a senior in the class studying political science and economics, said she was “disgusted” by Stoil’s belief that his actions were excusable, and faculty who are prejudiced should not teach at GW.

“He was saying it like we were all going to agree with him,” Miller said. “As soon as he said it, you could hear a pin drop in the classroom. Everyone was just completely shocked. Even with masks on, you could tell the look on people’s faces was pure ‘What just happened?’”

Miller said she’s previously encountered instances where faculty were insensitive to students’ needs and identities, recalling when a professor denied her an assignment accommodation for Yom Kippur, a Jewish religious holiday, last fall semester.

“Personally, I’m just frustrated that this keeps happening over and over again,” she said. “I know a lot of students have things like this happen to them, and the University doesn’t take any accountability. They only provide this one avenue to report it, and then it’s not taken super seriously in a lot of cases.”

University spokesperson Tim Pierce said the University will not offer the Human Rights class during next semester. He declined to say whether the University is taking action against Stoil and how officials are responding to bias and racism in the classroom through policy and faculty hiring. He also declined to share which official Stoil was speaking to when using the N-word.

“GW is committed to fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for all members of our diverse community,” Pierce said in an email. “We care deeply about our students’ classroom experience, and we are providing support, resources and updates directly to those affected by this incident.”

From a white professor who pretended to be Black throughout her professional career to another who read the N-word during an Anti-Racist STEM Education class, GW faces a long road ahead toward more stringent prevention of incidents involving bias, microaggressions and prejudice. Whether inside the classroom, within student organizations or atop the University’s administration, recent incidents of racism have exposed a historical pattern of prejudice and discrimination that have underscored the student experience for generations.

When a professor in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development said the N-word in class in January, officials said they met with students in the course to reassure them that the University is “committed to ensuring” that instructors of that course and all faculty “receive appropriate preparation for inclusive classroom education.”

Stoil said in an email that officials asked him to not discuss the events in detail to avoid exacerbating “a potentially toxic situation” and did not apologize for his use of the N-word, instead objecting to any use of the racial slur, no matter the race of the individual.

“Contrary to some students’ belief, I am fully aware of the toxic reaction to use of the ‘N-word’ and other ethnic and gender-related slurs by all people,” Stoil said in the email. “I object to the N-word’s use in musical performance and poetry regardless of the identity of the user and wish that students felt equally offended by its use under any and all circumstances.”

Samantha Lewis, a sophomore in the class who studies political science and theater, said after she filed a bias report, she confronted Stoil about his remarks after the subsequent class to explain how he affected his students.

“He had no clue what I was talking about, he had no clue” she said. “He was like ‘Which comments?’ And I was like ‘Regarding your phone call with the provost.’ And he’s like ‘Oh,’ so I kind of had to explain to him why people were uncomfortable and offended.”

Lewis said Stoil “didn’t see a problem” with using the N-word as a non-Black individual and told her that not being able to use the N-word is a violation of his rights. She said he told her he has used the racial slur before and would have “definitely” said it in class if it was “a couple years ago.”

“No sympathy or self reflection of like ‘Oh damn, like maybe I did mess up, maybe this was a wrong comment for me to make,’” she said.

Black Student Union President Gianna Cook said she was “saddened” that students had to face Stoil’s comments.

“There should be no argument or contestation on the validity of when to use racialized languages that historically have been harmful to communities of color, specifically the Black community,” she said.

Cook said the group will work to ensure that these incidents do not continue to happen.

“We stand with our students who have been affected and offer our support for anything they might need,” she said. “The Black Student Union will continue to be in the fight for equity and respectability of all identities of color in the classroom.”

Kennedy Murray, the president of GW’s NAACP chapter, said the chapter is “disappointed, but not surprised” to hear of Stoil’s remarks.

“We hope in the future that GW can make changes for students of color to feel safe and valued,” Murray said in a statement.

GW is not the only higher education institution in the region where students have reported feeling uncomfortable on campus due to prejudice and bias. Earlier this month, a collective of Black students demanded answers from the University of Virginia after a noose was found hanging around the neck of the university’s famous Homer statue.

“Apathetic silence in the face of explicit anti-Blackness and the threat of racialized violence does not contain the problem of white supremacy,” a statement from the collective reads. “It does not protect Black students – in fact, it actively frustrates Black student efforts to mobilize, organize and hold space for healing.”

This article was written and edited as part of a collaboration between The Black Ace Magazine and The GW Hatchet. If you have any questions about the reporting behind the story, please contact the editors at [email protected] or [email protected].

This post has been updated to reflect the following:
This post has been updated to include Stoil’s comments stating that he plans to leave his position at GW at the end of the semester. The update was written by contributor Charlene Richards.

The story has also been updated to clarify that the Human Rights course will not be taught in the spring semester. A previous version of this post stated Stoil is set to teach Human Rights and Introduction to International Politics next semester. GWeb errantly posted those courses on its spring 2023 course catalog due to a potential IT error. University spokesperson Tim Pierce said the Human Rights course will not be offered next semester, and the spring 2023 course catalog has not yet been officially released.

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