Samantha Harris, the lawyer representing the woman, said the school would waive its responsibility to train lawyers if it encouraged teachers to avoid epithets in all settings.
“When you’re a lawyer you hear all kinds of horrible things,” said Ms. Harris, a former fellow of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
“You represent people who said horrible things, who did horrible things,” she said. “You cannot guarantee a world without offensive language.”
Adam Scales, a black professor at Rutgers Law who signed the statement of support for Professor Bergelson, said he even opposed voluntary limits on speech. But he said the number of his colleagues who believe racial epithets should never be used, regardless of the context, is “not insignificant.”
Using euphemisms like “N-word” to avoid racial insult, he said, obscures his loathsome story.
“There is something extremely antiseptic about the term ‘N-word’,” he said. “There is something that softens the impact.”
Faculty discussions, held via videoconference, were tense, he said.
“I can’t imagine a less hospitable setting than a Zoom call of 100 people to discuss racism,” he said. “It is a demoralizing time for everyone involved.”
Professor Bergelson, who emigrated from Moscow as an adult, said his belief that insults rooted in racism, bigotry or misogyny should be avoided in the classroom stems from his personal history. Her grandmother, she said, was a journalist executed in 1950 by the Stalinist regime for joining the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. Another relative was executed in 1952.