A white, female lecturer at the University of Tennessee has been fired after a black student challenged the way she was teaching slave history, resulting in a debate that allegedly caused retaliation and inappropriate conduct by the teacher on social media.
University student Kayla Parker wrote on Medium's Student Voices page that Judy Morelock, a lecturer in the university's department of sociology, wears a safety pin to show she is an ally for minorities, features a black power fist on one of her social media accounts, says in class that she loves the Obamas and the Black Lives Matter movement, and is opposed to the Trump administration. But, Parker wrote, "nothing would shake [Morelock] more than a confident, Black woman contradicting her in front of a classroom of her own students."
Parker argued with Morelock over a multiple choice quiz question on one of Morelock's quizzes:
Historical research on African-American families during slavery shows that: A) Family ties weren’t important in African cultures where the slaves ancestors originated; consequently, family bonds were never strong among slaves. B) Two-parent families were extremely rare during the slave period. C) Black family bonds were destroyed by the abuses of slave owners, who regularly sold off family members to other slave owners. D) Most slave families were headed by two parents.
Parker chose C and was told it was incorrect. Answer D was the correct answer, according to Morelock. Parker asked over email for further information to prove C was incorrect, and provided evidence from the textbook to back up her answer. Morelock rebutted Parker's argument with a different set of facts and posted about the dispute on Facebook. Morelock and her friends and family commented on that Facebook post.
Parker and Morelock were to meet after class to discuss the topic further, but Parker wrote that during class, Morelock "began making backhanded comments directed at me. For example: 'Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to bring the textbook to class today because my bag is full of other texts for a student who requires further evidence on subjects I teach in class.'"
While meeting with Morelock, Parker said that she defended her teachings on slavery by stating she has spent her entire life fighting for minorities, of which Parker refers to as the "'I've got black friends' defensive rhetoric."
Morelock gave Parker the opportunity to lecture the class on the topic and she accepted, sharing it on Facebook Live.
One week later, Morelock allegedly posted comments about Parker on Facebook.
The comments, according to Parker, included: "'She’s on LinkedIn trying to establish professional contacts, this should be fun!', 'After the semester is over and she is no longer my student, I will post her name, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.. after she graduates, all bets are off', 'I don’t forget malevolent attempts to harm me. #karmawillfindyou', and 'Ignore the facts, promote a misinformed viewpoint, trash me and I will fight you.'"
The university then took action. Parker was removed from the class, given alternatives to complete the course, and offered resources to ensure her safety.
The class received a final email from Morelock: "A student and her friends posted inflammatory, derogatory, libelous comments on her Facebook page and demeaned my character, honesty, and integrity….Nonetheless, she filed a complaint against me with [the University] administration and they decided she has the right to impugn my character but I had no right to defend myself. Consequently, I’ve been placed on administration leave and will likely be terminated this week."
Morelock was indeed terminated after her contract, which was set to end in July, was bought out by the school, the Knoxville News Sentinel reports.
In a Facebook message to a reporter, Morelock said: "For this woman to publicly call me a racist is outrageous and unconscionable, as promoting racial justice has been a large part of my life's work."
Donna Sherwood, a professional colleague of Morelock, said she has never seen the teacher say or do anything racist.
"The fact that she uses rough language ought not to be used against her," Sherwood said. "That shouldn’t be brought into play. Had she called that girl racist names, I would be the first person on her page saying you’d better stop this stuff. She wasn’t doing that."
In a post she made before being fired, Morelock shared a meme that reads: "Please accept this complimentary dildo, and go f*** yourself."
Parker says she believes the meme was aimed at her directly, although Morelock said she has used it "several times" over the years. "It has nothing to do with her," Morelock said.
Parker said that Morelock never used any racist words or terms, but that she showed racism in her reaction to being challenged by a black student.
"If students can’t raise questions in class, it’s not a thriving, healthy academic institution," she said. "College is supposed to be a place where you can agree and disagree and have intellectual discussions and that's all I was trying to do."