The Universit of Kansas placed professor Andrea M. Quenette on paid leave Nov. 20, 2015, while it investigates her students’ complaints that she used a racial slur in a classroom lecture.
MIKE YODER/LAWRENCE JOURNAL-WORLD

University of Kansas officials placed a white professor on paid leave after her students filed a complaint over her use of the n-word during a lecture on racism, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.

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Professor Andrea Quenette, 33, said that school officials notified her on Friday about the formal complaint. Her supervisors agreed to her request for a paid leave of absence during the investigation.

This decision comes after a week of protests against Quenette on social media and the circulation of a letter online written by her mostly white students.

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Racial tensions were already high on campus when the incident occurred. The communications professor had said that a classroom discussion was on the syllabus for the day when one of her graduate students asked how they could handle racial problems in their own classrooms.

“As a white woman I just never have seen the racism … it’s not like I see ‘N—ger’ spray-painted on walls,” she said during her lecture to the graduate students who teach undergraduate classes, according to the students’ online letter.

She added to the controversy by disagreeing with the students who blamed institutionalized racism for low graduation rates of black students.

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“I tried to preface everything I said with, ‘I don’t experience racial discrimination, so it’s hard for me to understand the challenges that other people face, because I don’t often see those,’” Quenette told the newspaper.

Members of her class, which consisted of one black student and nine white students, had a different take on their professor’s comments.

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“As you can imagine, this utterance [of the n-word] caused shock and disbelief,” the students said in their letter. “Her comments that followed were even more disparaging as they articulated not only her lack of awareness of racial discrimination and violence on this campus and elsewhere but an active denial of institutional, structural, and individual racism. This denial perpetuates racism in and of itself.”

The newspaper reports that Quenette, who has been teaching at KU for two years, is seeking an attorney to represent her during the investigation.

Read more at the Lawrence Journal-World