A group of Howard University students are demanding a White professor’s resignation after he put on a mock slave auction during his lecture on Frederick Douglass’ slave narratives.
WTTG-TV reports that on March 9, the professor used one of two Black men in the class to illustrate how sellers examined slaves before they were sold at auction.
The professor pointed to one of the Black male students, told him to stand up while his classmates looked at his body. The professor then noted the student’s healthy and physical build and said he would have been “the type of slave buyers would look for.”
The student was supposed to turn toward the class and watch his peers as they examined his teeth and weight. Noticing the look of shock on the students’ faces, the professor tried to reassure him. According to one student’s account in Caged Bird Magazine, the professor said, “It’s OK, I’m uncomfortable too; I’m white.”
The student was instead asked to turn around so the rest of the class could inspect his buttocks and get a better sense of what he’d be worth at market. At that point, the class objected and the student sat down, according to the news accounts.
“I wanted to hit him,” said the student, according to BET. “I was being racially and sexually harassed in front of my peers and the only thing I could think to defend myself was by punching him.”
Howard University has opened an investigation into the matter.
Meanwhile, the controversy comes during a tumultuous time at the storied university. Last week, Howard faculty and administrators issued a biting letter, demanding the immediate removal of President Wayne Frederick, News One reported.
In the undated letter, anonymous writers allege Frederick’s presidency is “failed and represents a dark and shameful moment in Howard’s history.”
They accuse him of staff intimidation and harassment, of creating a hostile work environment that has “subjected the university to scrutiny by external authorities to whom the university submits accreditation reports, institutional data and budget finance reports. “
The letter goes on to allege that Frederick has shirked his responsibilities when it comes to submitting a strategic plan since his 2014 appointment, has made the school’s credit rating plummet, has caused a high turnover rate among faculty and also lower student enrollment.
“He is ineffectual and autocratic and unable to clearly articulate a commitment to Black uplift,” the letter reads.
The authors demand a new president with “proven and effective higher education administrative ability,” “stature on Capitol Hill” and a “respectful regard for faculty.”