The University of Wisconsin has apologized to a black student shown a clip from the 1974 satire “Blazing Saddles” that featured several racial slurs in a November 2007 training seminar at the Pyle Center.
In the scene, several black men are working on a railroad when approached by a group of white men. The white men call the black men derogatory terms and demand they sing old slave songs.
The student described the course in a complaint letter to UW as a “mental health training seminar” and said he worked in the “correctional field.”
He explained the problem he and another black student had with the scene.
“I did not attend the training to [hear] this type of derogatory, inflammatory, humiliating, painful and non-educating language,” the student wrote. “I can state with certainty that this was viewed, not as a satire, by a minimum of two of the training participants.”
The students also believe the instructor “should have asked the African-Americans in the training how they might receive this racist film.”
The complaint letter was forwarded to the Office for Equity and Diversity, which investigates allegations of racism for UW.
Continuing Studies Department Chair James Campbell, along with the instructor, wrote an apology letter to the student.
“It was an insensitive error to use a video clip that included inflammatory and offensive language, and it will not happen again,” Campbell wrote. “We closely reviewed the evaluation comments from the November workshop and will not be offering the program again in 2008.”
The organization that paid for the student’s registration received a full refund of $230.
UW spokesperson Brian Mattmiller said no formal action was taken against the instructor, a contracted teacher who has not taught a UW course since.
“He was made aware that this was an inappropriate activity for this class,” Mattmiller said. “It was a case of bad judgment.”
The student went on to discuss the recent controversies of race, mentioning radio host Don Imus, former Seinfeld star Michael Richards and TV bounty hunter Dwayne “Dog” Chapman.
He said UW, which usually promotes diversity, is persistently practicing “racist rhetoric.”
“This practice continues to be an ongoing problem with little consequence to its perpetrators because they no longer believe it to be a problem,” the student wrote.
Stephen Appell, assistant director of the Office for Equity and Diversity, wrote in a statement the names of the instructor and student are being withheld to protect their privacy and their reputations.