Georgetown University Law professor Franz Werro referred to one of his Asian students as “Mr. Chinaman” during a class last Thursday.
While seeking student comments during a class discussion, Werro reportedly looked to an Asian student and asked, “What about you, Mr. Chinaman?”
“Sorry to not catch your name,” he added. “Maybe you can remind me of your name.”
A clip of the incident was posted to Twitter with the caption: “Pro. Werro of @GeorgetownLaw #GeorgetownLaw has a very racist way of conducting his law school ‘cold call.’”
The Twitter account @choose_ur_term also wrote in the thread, “To answer people’s questions: 1) No, the student’s last name was not Chinaman. 2) ‘Chinaman’ is a racial slur that relates back to the era of Chinese Slavery in America.”
The video has been viewed nearly 100,000 times and has prompted an online discussion regarding the professor’s use of the racial slur. It was brought to the attention of the university’s dean, Bill Teanor, who then released a statement to members of the Georgetown Law Community.
“Late last night I was made aware of an incident yesterday involving a professor using a derogatory term in the classroom that is demeaning and hurtful. This term is a slur with a centuries-long history of harm to Asian people,” Teanor stated, according to Above the Law. “I met with student leaders from APALSA and the Georgetown China Law Society today and remain committed to having an open and honest dialogue about this incident. The faculty member has expressed his commitment to that dialogue and has issued a sincere apology to his class.”
According to his statement, Teanor also recently created the Inclusion Council to improve the future structure of their Office of Equity and Inclusion “to better serve [their] community.”
“We are also working to design an approach to inclusive pedagogy for all faculty,” he added. “We have already conducted several trainings and will host workshops this Spring for faculty that will incorporate feedback from students.”
The professor has since reportedly sent an apology to his students stating: “I apologize that I used an offensive term in class yesterday. The statement I made was just after the break in the class, during which I had enthusiastically noted the great diversity of languages spoken by members of the class. As a non-native English speaker myself, I did not appreciate that it was a derogatory term, as I now understand it is. I am very sorry I used it. I am committed to educating myself because I want all students to feel welcome in my classroom.”
According to his faculty bio, Werro researches and teaches private law both at Georgetown in Washington D.C. and University of Fribourg in Switzerland.
The university’s Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) has listed steps for the school administration to take in order to redress the harm done and to ensure a productive learning environment for all students.
In a statement shared to Twitter by APALSA President Claris Park, the APALSA E-board noted that while Werro apologized to his class, he had not yet made a public apology to the school’s AAPI population, as of Feb. 12.
“What matters most to them is that a public apology is issued to the AAPI population of the school. Again, we recommend that Professor Werro either do so as soon as possible himself or that the administration forward his apology on his behalf,” the Georgetown APALSA E-board wrote in the statement.
The APALSA held a virtual town hall meeting to address the concerns of their members on Feb. 13, but there have been no further updates regarding a public apology from Werro.