Professor Fired for Reading Racial Slur from Mark Twain Novel That ‘Satirizes Evil Institution of Slavery’

A St. John’s University professor was fired, allegedly after students were upset after she quoted the N-word aloud while reading from Mark Twain’s anti-slavery novel “Pudd’nhead Wilson” during a class on satirical literature, The New York Post reported.

Hannah Berliner Fischthal, an adjunct professor at the Catholic college in Queens for 20 years used the word once during a remote class on February 10 after she first explained to students the context of the word and said she hoped it would not offend anyone, the Post reported.

“Mark Twain was one of the first American writers to use actual dialect. His use of the ‘N-word’ is used only in dialogues as it could have actually been spoken in the south before the Civil War, when the story takes place,” Fischthal said, referring to the book.

“It satirizes the entire evil institution of slavery,” she added in a statement after her firing.

According to reports, at least one student left the online class after she said the word and emailed the college administration describing the “emotional distress” the use of the word caused.

‘It was unnecessary and very painful to hear,’ the student wrote in the email.

Most students in the class defended Fischthal explaining the term was used in context of the reading. However four students rejected her use of the word which led to a discussion that continued during the following class.

Fischthal apologized to the student in an email and set up a private discussion online.

“I apologize if I made anyone uncomfortable in the class by using a slur when quoting from and discussing the text,” Fischthal wrote. “Please do share your thoughts.”

Two days later, the professor was suspended, accused of violating the school’s bias policy. Fischtal was then notified of her firing in late April.

Brian Browne, a spokesman for the university, however, denied that Fischthal was fired because of the quote.

“If your assertion is that she was fired for reading aloud from a Mark Twain novel, that is incorrect,” Browne told the Post.

Browne refused to clarify the matter, simply saying the university doesn’t comment on personal matters.


About Catherine Smith

Catherine Smith is a newcomer to Washington D.C. She met and married an American journalist and moved to D.C. from the U.K. She graduated with a B.A. in Graphics, Media, and Communications and worked in design and retail in the U.K.

Photo: Prostock-Studio/Getty Images

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