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WRBLSA Statement Objecting to the Reinstatement of University of Oregon Law Professor Nancy Shurtz

Updated: Nov 6, 2018

In October of 2016, Professor Nancy Shurtz, a law professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, was photographed wearing blackface at an off-campus Halloween party. Shurtz claims she was trying to dress as a book, Damon Tweedy’s memoir about a black man starting his medical career, Black Man in a White Coat. Despite an open letter from twenty-three University of Oregon Law School faculty, after a short leave of absence and a pre-planned, year-long sabbatical, Professor Shurtz has been allowed to resume teaching at the University of Oregon. On Wednesday, April 11, 2018, law students gathered at a town hall meeting with law school administration to voice their concerns over Shurtz’s return. Moreover, Professor Shurtz did not attend the town hall meeting, robbing many students the opportunity to address her directly. As of today, there has been no action taken by the University of Oregon Law School to address the concerns of students of color within their law school. WRBLSA stands in solidarity with these students and endeavors to amplify their voice by objecting to the reinstatement of Professor Shurtz. Blackface has long been associated with damaging racial stereotypes. It is a tool with a disgusting history as a means of insulting and demeaning those of African heritage. Wearing blackface is not only highly offensive, but it is a demonstration that is patently racist and rises to the level of racial harassment. Professor Shurtz not only wore blackface but in her attempt to excuse her actions, concedes that she attempted to depict a black man in a white coat. What is worse is that many students of color at the University of Oregon Law School have not received any form of apology from Shurtz or any opportunity to address Shurtz directly regarding her actions. Accordingly, there is no excuse for her actions, and we refuse to accept this a mere “lack of judgment” on her part. Actions speak louder than words. Moreover, the degree of those actions demonstrates the level of awareness, contrition, and sense of community one embodies. However, inaction reflects the lack of these principles. The University of Oregon states that “diversity” “foster[ing] equity and inclusion in a welcoming, safe, and respectful community” are one of its core values. However, the University of Oregon has demonstrated its lack of awareness, contrition, and sense of equity and inclusion through its inaction. Despite an open letter for several law faculty members, and an investigatory finding from an independent law firm that Shurtz violated university policy against discrimination, she is being allowed to return to work. Furthermore, as stated by a University of Oregon spokesman, Shurtz is returning after a “pre-planned” sabbatical. This further indicates the University has taken no action in punishing this kind of conduct and illuminates the lack of value and concern it has for the students of color offended by her actions. Inaction is not only a transgression of the University of Oregon and the University of Oregon Law School. Shurtz also contributes to transgression due to her inaction. To our knowledge, Shurtz has made zero attempts to apologize to students for her actions directly. Shurtz has failed to make herself available to students who felt offended. Even if her actions were excusable as a lack of judgment, students deserve the opportunity to address this professor and explain just how damaging her actions were. After almost two years since the incident, Professor Shurtz failed to afford students this opportunity. It is clear to us that Professor Shurtz lacks the contrition for her actions and is devoid of awareness of the concerns of students of color and the University of Oregon Law School seeks to shield her from the consequences of her actions. The mission statement of the National Black Law Students Association states: “The mission of NBLSA is to increase the number of culturally responsible Black and minority attorneys who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community.” As the Western Region of NBLSA, we cannot adequately fulfill our duty to our members by embracing the pattern of inaction adopted by the University of Oregon Law School and Professor Shurtz. We owe it to our members and for the countless other law students of color who are subject to unchecked racial harassment and discrimination to address this matter head-on. We would like the University of Oregon Law school to know that reinstating Professor Shurtz is unacceptable, especially given that students were not informed. It is a failure to, not only to students of color but to the University's own core values to allow this offense to go unchecked by reinstating her. We reject the characterization of her actions as a “lack of judgment” or a mere “mistake” as Professor Shurtz’s lack of contrition for her actions demonstrates not only her lack of sincerity but also the pre-textual nature of this excuse. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that “[o]ur lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” The concerns of the law student body of the University of Oregon matter. Their voices matter. And as stakeholders in that academic space, their sense of community matters. WRBLSA cannot be silent when it is apparent Professor Shurtz’s return is a major concern for our members as well as the several students of color at the University of Oregon School of Law. We encourage, not only our members but also, all those that would stand in solidarity with the concerned students at the University of Oregon Law School to oppose the reinstatement of Professor Nancy Shurtz with the hashtags #NoPlace4Blackface #FireNancyShurtz

Submission by WRBLSA Attorney General, Canon Thomas and WRBLSA Vice Chair, Caleb L. Green


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