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If you haven’t heard of Coastal Carolina University’s absurd punishment of theater professor Steven Earnest (and you made it through that headline without frying too many brain cells), you might take a couple of more minutes to read through this week’s press release from FIRE:
On Sept. 16, a visiting artist was working with two students of color after class, and one student expressed that she felt isolated and would like to get to know other non-white students in the department. The visiting artist asked about whether it might be helpful for non-white students to connect as a group, and she and the students wrote out the names of other non-white students on the classroom whiteboard while brainstorming ideas.
The names were still on the board when the next class arrived, and several of the entering students were offended, believing that whoever had written the list must have been singling out non-white students. They decided to hold a protest in a campus courtyard on Sept. 21 instead of attending class.
After discussion with the students and faculty involved, the Department of Theatre’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee determined that the names on the board had been presented “as a resource for newer students who are looking to be in community with other BIPOC students.” Nonetheless, the DEI committee apologized to the offended students, writing in an email to the theater department that the “faculty and students involved as well as the Theatre Department as a whole are deeply sorry to anyone who was affected by this incident.” The visiting artist who helped create the list of names also apologized profusely, calling her participation “thoughtless and careless.”
Earnest did not agree. He responded to the email, stating (as written): “Sorry but I dont think its a big deal. Im just sad people get their feelings hurt so easily. And they are going into Theatre?” He received several responses criticizing his remark, and responded again to clarify that he was “just defending our guest artist.”
Rather than defend Earnest’s right to make this sensible retort, Coastal Carolina responded by suspending him from teaching. This prompted a letter from FIRE, which Coastal Carolina has declined to answer. Earnest is now working with FIRE’s Faculty Legal Defense Fund, which hopes to bring this matter to a rapid resolution. That’s our hope, anyway; Earnest’s attorney informs us that the university is launching termination proceedings against the professor of more than fifteen years.
Suffice it to say, if Coastal Carolina actually goes through with this process, the public embarrassment this episode has caused will be the very least of its concerns. For more — and for how you can call on Coastal Carolina to reinstate Professor Earnest — check out our press release in full.Published in