Human Rights Watch parts with general counsel for N-word use during Columbia class

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The international advocacy group Human Rights Watch parted ways with its general counsel last week after she repeatedly used the N-word during a class she teaches at Columbia University.

Dinah PoKempner, an adjunct professor, used the term 11 times in half a minute while recounting a conversation to students during an April 1 Zoom session, the Columbia Spectator reported.

The decorated attorney, who is white, was discussing legal implications of hate speech at the time, according to the report.

During the lesson, PoKempner relayed an anecdote that included dialogue between a Ku Klux Klan member and a lawyer associate of hers.

“Unfortunately, the voices of the lawyer and his deponent were graven in my memory, and I did not edit as I spoke, using the original racist term,” she told the Columbia Spectator. “Students were understandably shocked, and they explained eloquently and patiently why they objected to use of the word.”

Some students objected to her language during the class and the matter was discussed, according to the site.

During a break in that exchange, PoKempner left her mic on and was overheard using the term again while relaying the incident to someone in her home.

A group of students who had been present in the class convened afterwards to discuss how they would address the matter and have since filed formal complaints with Columbia administrators.

Student Youdane Maman-Toure told the Spectator that she found PoKempner’s use of the word unacceptable.

“I also remember her saying that telling people that they can’t say the N-word in its full capacity is giving the word more power and giving racists more power, without acknowledging that the word does hold more power when it’s coming out of the mouth of white people and people that look like her,” Toure said.

According to her Columbia bio, PoKempner has specialized in “analyzing compliance with international humanitarian law, war crimes and violations of civil and political rights.”

Columbia did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

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