University: Prof who donned blackface violated policy

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2016 7:22 PM

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — A University of Oregon law professor who donned blackface for a costume at a Halloween party violated the institution's anti-harassment policies, but any punishment she might receive would remain confidential, the university said Wednesday in a 29-page report.

The university found Nancy Shurtz's costume had a devastating impact on the law school, where it created an atmosphere of tension and hostility, The Register-Guard reported (http://bit.ly/2iccOom ).

The newspaper could not reach Shurtz for comment. She did not immediately return a phone message and email left by The Associated Press on Wednesday at her office.

Shurtz said in an apology after the incident that she wore a white coat, stethoscope and black face paint to portray Dr. Damon Tweedy, a black psychiatrist who wrote a best-selling memoir about his experiences with racism in medical school and in his profession.

The costume was meant to provoke discussion about racism in society and she had no ill intent, Shurtz has said.

The report agreed that Shurtz did not mean to cause distress but said the costume was nevertheless extremely damaging.

The reaction to Shurtz's costume, including debates on social media, has caused anxiety among minority students at the law school, the report found.

As a result, some are skipping classes or altering their study habits and a few are considering transfers because of "a mistrust toward professors and faculty beyond just Shurtz," investigators said.

"The open discussions in class have also resulted in racial hostility between the students," investigators wrote.

Thirteen students, three faculty members and two alumni were at the party at Shurtz's house, investigators wrote, but no one approached her about her costume during the party.

"One student said that the costume was so ludicrous and offensive that it was apparent that many of the guests were avoiding interaction with Shurtz," according to the report.

Guests were "looking down at the ground, unsure what to do," it said.

Along with sending an apology to two of her classes, Shurtz reached out to two minority students who were at the party to apologize, the university said.

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A previous version of this story misspelled Shurtz's last name. The correct spelling is Shurtz.

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com