Ottawa professor apologizes for using N-word, regrets growing controversy

University of Ottawa professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval has apologized for using the N-word during a class discussion, and said she's now worried the controversy is being taken up by people with extreme positions.

Verushka Lieutenant-Duval used the offensive term during an art and gender class discussion

The University of Ottawa suspended part-time professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval last month after learning she had used the N-word during a class discussion. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A University of Ottawa professor has apologized for using the N-word during a class discussion, and said she's worried the controversy has now been blown out of proportion by people taking extreme positions.

"I would like to reiterate my apologies to the Black community, or to anyone," Verushka Lieutenant-Duval told Radio-Canada in a French-language interview.

She said it was not her intention to hurt or offend people, nor to provoke controversy. 

The bilingual university suspended Lieutenant-Duval Sept. 23, after a student complained that the part-time professor used the N-word during an an art and gender class. 

Students opt out of class

The university has since reinstated her and offered students from her art and gender class an alternative course she said. Only one has chosen to remain in her class, she said. 

"Pretty lucky, I think. The student will have a personal professor," said Lieutenant-Duval, who teaches two courses.

Verushka Lieutenant-Duval has apologized for using the offensive term in class. All but one of her students have opted to take a different course, she told Radio-Canada. (University of Ottawa)

Lieutenant-Duval explained during the interview that she used the word during a discussion about groups who "re-appropriate" or reclaim words and phrases previously used to disparage or oppress.   

She said she now regrets using it.

"During a university course, I don't want to hurt anyone. I agree with everyone, there's no place for that," she said. "If I knew that that word should not be spoken in the context of an academic course, I would have tried to find another way, that's clear."

Polarizing views

Lieutenant-Duval said she wanted to speak publicly because she fears the issue has now been taken up by groups with extreme and polarizing views. On Tuesday, Quebec Premier François Legault weighed in on the controversy, suggesting the issue is about academic freedom and censorship.

"I don't think this really has anything to do with what really happened," Lieutenant-Duval said. "The starting point is really how to use a sensitive word in class in an academic course."

She said the harassing and sometimes violent social media exchanges that followed have been upsetting. Her name, phone number and home address were posted on social media, she said, which has made her fear for her personal safety. 

"I am proud of these young people who stand up to denounce the inequalities, the injustices, which are linked to discrimination," she said. "But I am completely stunned that we can think of fighting racism, inequalities, injustices by using hateful words."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

A banner of upturned fists, with the words 'Being Black in Canada'.

With files from Radio-Canada

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