No place for the N-word in any corner of society

Fight Against Racism. Illustration of a diverse group of people

OPSEU/SEFPO leadership is speaking out against the use of the N-word by a University of Ottawa professor, stating that there is no place or setting that justifies using this word.

“This is a racial slur that continues to have a great deal of pain associated with it,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “It is unacceptable that any of our academic leaders would excuse the use of this word as an exercise of free speech or academic freedom.”

Professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval was reported to say the N-word in her art and gender classroom discussion, as an example of a word that Black people are reclaiming.  After a complaint from a student, she was placed on administrative leave.

Peter Thompson, OPSEU/SEFPO Coalition of Racialized Workers (CoRW) Chair, referred to the origins of the racial slur, noting that it came into the English language in the 1600’s specifically to demean and dehumanize people of African descent and to legitimize their enslavement.  The word was used on plantations to keep African, Caribbean and Black people ‘in their place’ on the racial hierarchy of white supremacy.

“This is a word that was used when Black people were lynched for sport and hung from a tree – that was how evil the word was,” said Thompson. “When used in the present day, it still reminds People of African descent of a time when they weren’t thought of as human.”

Since the incident, student groups have demanded a stronger response from University of Ottawa President Jacques Fremont, who supported the Canadian Alliance of University Teachers (CAUT) in their response that the use of the word is covered under academic freedom.

OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida spoke out against the CAUT and Fremont’s defense of the word’s use as ‘academic freedom’, stating that there is never a time or place – and that includes the workplace – for this word to be used in our society.

“As leaders, we need to step up and say, without exception, that the use of this racial slur should never be legitimized in our workplaces,” said Almeida. “OPSEU/SEFPO stands with all people of African descent and we will speak out against the disrespect of the Black community until racial discrimination is removed from our society.”

This is a moment of reckoning in human history.  The ongoing injustices against the Black community teach us that differences are what continue to divide us.  However, in order for all of us to be truly equal, we must work towards ensuring that everyone is free. We can all learn from moments like these if we are willing to acknowledge the steps we need to do better.

OPSEU/SEFPO Anti-Racism Initiatives and Information can be found on the union’s website. For all questions, concerns, or to contribute to the union’s anti-racism initiatives, contact

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