Oregon prof found guilty of harassment for blackface costume

University of Oregon professor Nancy Shurtz has been found guilty of violating the university's policies against discrimination after wearing blackface on Halloween.

Shurtz was put on administrative leave last month after a photo surfaced of her using blackface at a Halloween party where other professors and students were both in attendance, even though Shurtz claims she dressed up as a black doctor from the book Black Man in a White Coat, a story that documents a black man struggling with race bias as a doctor, in order to make students more aware of racial issues.

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The investigative report issued by the university claims that “the actions constitute Discriminatory Harassment” under the University's policies against discrimination, asserting that “the actual disruption and harm to the University resulting from Nancy Shurtz’s wearing of the costume at the stated event are significant enough to outweigh Nancy Shurtz’s interests in academic freedom and free speech.”

Despite the party taking place in Shurtz’s own home, two students were in attendance, and while they acknowledged that “there was no classroom requirement to attend and that they did not feel directly pressured” to do so, they nonetheless “felt indirectly obligated to make an appearance” because “of a general sense of the student-teacher relationship” and because “Shurtz had papers of theirs on her desk that she would soon be grading.”

The report also claimed that one student “would have not attended the event if such attendance did not feel to the student like class participation that could influence his or her grade.”

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“A decision by Professor Nancy Shurtz to wear a Halloween costume that included black makeup on her face and hands at a party she hosted for UO law students, former students, and faculty members forced our campus to face some very difficult truths about racism, ignorance, and the state of inclusivity on our campus. Her costume mimicked the historic stereotype of blackface, and caused offense to many who witnessed it,” UO Provost Scott Coltrane declared in a statement.

“Though the report recognizes that Professor Shurtz did not demonstrate ill intent in her choice of costume, it concludes that her actions had a negative impact on the university’s learning environment and constituted harassment under the UO’s antidiscrimination policies,” he elaborated.

Coltrane noted that “the violation and its resulting impact on students in the law school and university outweighed free speech protections provided under the Constitution and our school's academic freedom policies,” but said that “any resulting disciplinary action remains confidential under university policy.”

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