African American Studies Prof. Barnor Hesse withdrew himself Thursday morning from consideration to give the Last Lecture to the class of 2015, calling his biography on the ballot “demeaning and insulting.”
In an email to administrators, faculty and the assistant director at the Center for Student Involvement, Hesse said he found the description problematic and indicative of a wider problem with how the university handles diversity.
The Last Lecture is a speech given by a student-picked professor to members of the senior class at a Chicago bar the week before graduation.
Hesse, a black man, was nominated alongside three other professors. He said the difference between his biography and those of the three white female professors also nominated “could not have been starker.” While each of the other professors’ biographies described their work in their respective fields, Hesse said his focused on his personality, talking about his “engaging and comical nature,” which he said reduced him to “the joker in the pack.”
“Two of the most popular undergraduate courses I teach at NU are ‘Racism in Western Modernity’ and ‘Unsettling Whiteness,’” Hesse said in the email. “These are hardly laughing matters. Among other things they are courses where students are encouraged to develop analyses that expose and critique the kinds of racist tropes (in the biography).”
The Senior Year Experience committee, a group of nine students who organize the senior week events, including the Last Lecture, sent an email to the senior class apologizing for the “distinctly different tones” of the professors’ biographies, which they said were drawn directly from student nominations.
“It has always been a goal of our committee to amplify voices in the senior class that are often silenced,” the committee said in the email. “We regret that there was such a stark contrast in the descriptions for each professor. This resulted from our lack of oversight.”
In accordance with Hesse’s request that his reasons for withdrawing be distributed to the students voting for the Last Lecture speaker, the committee sent a copy of his email to the senior class and said that seniors who voted for Hesse could resubmit their vote.
Weinberg junior Noah Star, Associated Student Government president, distributed Hesse’s email about withdrawing to the ASG News email list.
“It’s ASG’s role to distribute information to the student body and provide a forum for information and discussion,” Star told The Daily.
Students have also shared the email on social media.
Hesse declined to comment beyond the email he sent.
This story was updated May 29 at 1:54 a.m.
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