U Oregon students remain steadfast in demand for changes related to 2016 racial incident

The Black Law Students Association at the University of Oregon is demanding change for an incident that occurred in 2016 and says it has not been adequately addressed. 

In that year, law professor Nancy Shurtz invited law students to her home for a Halloween party. She wore a white lab coat, black face and a black wig in the shape of an afro. She said the costume was inspired by a memoir of a Black doctor dealing with racism in the U.S. and that she intended the costume to “provoke a thoughtful discussion on racism in our society.”

She provoked a lot more than a discussion. The news story was picked up nationwide, more than 1,200 students at the university signed a petition calling on her to resign and 23 of her fellow faculty members wrote a letter also asking her to resign. 

She made an official apology, but was still placed on administrative leave after the university found her guilty of violating the school’s anti-discrimination policies. She returned to Oregon after a sabbatical in 2018.

The school’s BLSA chapter issued four demands at that time, that it said have been ignored. 

  1. To provide alternatives to the courses taught by Shurtz so that no student has to take her classes.
  1. To create and inform future law students of the disciplinary actions that follow discriminatory conduct and provide the students with resources to help them deal with issues involving diversity and inclusion.
  2. To create mandatory coursework that teaches students about understanding and respecting race in the legal profession and higher education.
  3. To train faculty to on how to facilitate difficult conversations surrounding race in the classroom.

The BLSA chapter reissued the demands to the law school administration in April.

Dean Marcilynn Burke responded in a letter outlining all the steps the law school has taken to educate students and staff about systemic racism.

But BLSA said that was not enough. 

“Dean Burke issued a ‘Special Message’ regarding racial injustice in the United States, which failed to directly address issues at Oregon Law or respond to BLSA’s Call to Action. The message failed to provide discrete actions that Oregon Law and the administration will take to help our community and our country move forward.”

More recently, BLSA sent the demands to the university administration, which responded with its own statement. 

"It’s clear that the 2016 incident continues to affect members of our community and we take the demands of the Black Law Students Association seriously. The Law School has implemented changes to address a number of BLSA’s concerns and the university will continue to work with the Faculty Senate and others to help align UO policy with its mission and values."

BLSA is now asking law students to boycott classes taught by Shurtz.

“To our University of Oregon law students, we ask that when it comes time to register for your courses, you stand in solidarity with BLSA by boycotting all courses taught by Professor Nancy Shurtz,” the student group wrote. “We understand that this may not be ideal, but we cannot allow for this university to continue to dehumanize the rights of its Black students to a suitable and safe education environment.”

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