The topic of Tuesday’s class on Journalism, Ethics and Democracy at the University of Oklahoma was one you would expect to see hotly debated on a college campus: technology, social media, and how it’s impacted journalism.
But things took a wild turn when Dr. Peter Gade, the director of graduate studies for the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, took offense to a student’s argument that journalists were obligated to keep up with younger generations.
As the university newspaper, OU Daily, reports: Gade responded that the student’s remarks were equal to saying “OK, boomer,” to him.
The class responded reasonably, breaking into “light laughter,” according to the Daily. But Gade, who had been making the case that journalism should stick to traditional news values and platforms, was not done being in his feelings.
“Calling someone a boomer is like calling someone a n——-,” the professor said.
The comment provoked some students to leave the class immediately, the Daily reports. The newspaper’s assistant culture editor, Molly Kruse, told Gade during the class that he shouldn’t use the racial slur; at first, he defended its use and changed the subject.
After the class ended, Gade told the few students still remaining in class that he was sorry for causing offense. Later that day, Gade—who has been on the faculty of the University of Oklahoma since 1998—wrote an email to his class apologizing for using the racial slur.
“I realize the word was hurtful and infuses the racial divisions of our country, past and present,” Gade wrote. “Use of the word is inappropriate in any—especially educational—settings. I offer my deepest and most sincere apologies. In the coming weeks, I will strive to show you that I am an instructor and teacher who is trustworthy and respectful of all. Please give me that opportunity.”
But some students told the newspaper they don’t plan on coming back to the class so long as Gade is the teacher.
“It was shocking to everybody in that class because we weren’t on the topic of race or discrimination or anything like that, or anything historical for that matter,” Janae Reeves, one of just three black people taking the capstone class, told the Daily. A senior broadcast journalism major, Reeves said she doesn’t feel comfortable going back to the class after the incident.
“I shut down immediately after he used it,” Reeves said.
The incident caught national attention because it isn’t the first time an older white man compared “boomer” to a racial epithet. A derivative of “baby boomer,” the “OK, boomer” first popped up on the social media platform Tik Tok last year as a way for Gen Z and Millennials to drag older adults. But more than a few have taken genuine offense to the term, with a conservative radio host recently calling it “the n-word of ageism.”
(Interestingly, “boomer” isn’t even the most offensive “b-word,” if you want to marinate on that for a moment.)
The University of Oklahoma has also been forced to confront high-profile racist rhetoric and behavior on its campus in recent years—another reason why black students and other students of color may be fed up with the university’s stated commitment to diversity and inclusion.
The OU student chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists released a statement Tuesday calling for consequences for Gade’s rhetoric, reports The Daily.
“We are not surprised by the actions of the professor who ironically teaches Journalism, Ethics and Democracy,” the NABJ wrote. “Nor are we surprised that people still don’t understand that insults like ‘OK, boomer’ do not create the same uneasiness that the historical slur ni**er does.”
Jamelia Reed, co-director of the OU Black Emergency Response Team, said she was concerned about the impact Gade’s words could have on prospective black journalists.
“Many Gaylord students who are black are talented people, who are going to do great in the industry,” Reed said, “but you experience this and it’s like, ‘Is this what the industry is going to be like?’”