John McAdams posts about an incident in a Marquette classroom in which an instructor is alleged to have criticized a student for being racially insensitive under circumstances where the posited lack of sensitivity is far from clear. Tom Foley wonders why people take John seriously and doesn't like the post, apparently because he reads it as making a claim about racial profiling.
What interests me is how you deal with this type of thing. There are students who think that their academic freedom is supressed by the statement of views that they find offensive. I think it is the instructor's job to disabuse them of that notion. While personal attacks and unadulterated hate ought not to be permitted, too much cocooning does not prepare young people for the world.
On the other hand, there is no point in permitting a discussion to deteriorate into competing claims of offense and students are not always precise in the framing of their arguments.
In the incident in question (and we may not know what really happened), there was apparently a discussion of the way in which overcriminalization can lead to disrespect for the law. If this overcriminalization is felt more heavily in minority communities, then, it would seem to follow, disrespect for the law may be higher in minority communities. This is one of the challenges of broken windows policing. New Milwaukee police chief Ed Flynn, who supports that approach, also argues that it will not work if the cops are seen as an occupying force.
The student in question seemed to be making the point that the officer on the street feels the brunt of this disrespect, citing a case in which some officers were called racists by a group of hispanics who had been pulled over.
If the report is accurate, the instructor and class jumped on him for offering this example, with the instructor ultimately requesting that he apologize.
A better way to handle this may have been to clarify the students comments by restating it in a way that removes any unintended insinuation and asking him to buy into it before inviting response. There is, of course, a danger of censorship in that but, if the facts are as reported to John (the instructor rebuffed his attempt to get her side of the story), then it appears clear that the kid wasn't trying to say that "all hispanics disrepect the police" and it would have been pedagogically sound to help him out.