Professor uses racial slur in class and prompts UVic apology, student demands for more action

Campus News

The racial slur was read from a text in an English class

The Clearihue building, photo by Abby Reid.
The Clearihue building, photo by Abby Reid.

After a UVic professor read out a  racial slur in class, renewed concerns are being raised about the role the university has in responding to and directly supporting students impacted by racism. 

Professor Joel Hawkes used a racial slur while reading from a text in his  English 436 class, British Modern  Fiction. In a message to the class that was later posted to Reddit, Hawkes admitted to using the word and justifying it afterward in the class.  

“I should not have done this, and its use cannot be justified. I am sorry,”  Hawkes said in his reply to the class.  “The word in question is one of extreme violence … I should not have continued  its violence in our discussion.”  The Chair of the English Department,  Michael Nowlin, issued a public statement in response, emphasizing that they do not condone the use of racial slurs. He said the department is reviewing their curriculum with equity,  diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism in mind, adding that training and workshops are underway.  

“The events of last week, and discussion on social media over the weekend, remind us how important this work is and that we must act quickly,”  he said.  

In the week following the incident,  UVic posted another statement stating that they could not comment on human resources or labour relations for legal matters.  

Students of Colour Collective (SOCC)  Coordinator Ruth Nakalyowa found the use of a racial slur unsurprising.  

“This is something that is a reality in existing as a Black person in a colonial space,” Nakalyowa said. 

After hearing about the incident,  Nakalyowa acted in a support role and reached out to some students to offer support.  

Nakalyowa says the university’s response fell short of providing any direct support to BIPOC students at  UVic. She says UVic’s statements drew attention to existing supports and initiatives but did not show that the university has taken any new steps to address this particular situation. Going forward, Nakalyowa hopes to see the university provide more details on their concrete anti-racism actions. 

UVic has requested that students reach out to a new email address,  shareyourstory@uvic.ca, with their experiences.  

“We have been following up on the recent incident and have engaged in important and ongoing discussions with affected individuals,” the university said. “We will ensure these messages  reach the right people, including those  working on UVic’s new equity action  plan.” 

Any emails sent to the shareyourstory@ uvic.ca address go to UVic’s Equity and  Human Resources (EQHR) department.  UVic says a representative from that department will field any e-mails from the UVic community and will forward them to other supports as needed. The university also maintains that EQHR’s email, EQHR01@uvic.ca, remains a central point of contact for anyone in the university community.  

As SOCC’s Coordinator, Nakalyowa hopes to create a community space on campus for students of colour at UVic.  SOCC is separate from the university  — they are an advocacy group under the University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS). Right now, SOCC is focused on establishing mental health supports for BIPOC students.  

She hopes that BIPOC students know that they are not alone in their experiences. 

“There really is a community for you to share your experiences,” Nakalyowa said. “We’re here if students reach out.”