Nancy Shurtz is a University of Oregon law professor who decided to wear a Halloween costume based on her favorite book, Black Man in a White Coat. It’s about, as you might have guessed from the title, a black man who is doctor. Nancy, in her infinite wisdom and multiple years of learning and teaching, decided to go to an off-campus Halloween party as the protagonist of the novel. In order to complete the costume and transformation, she put on blackface, an afro, and a lab coat.
That’s a photo of her Nancy in costume at the top of the article. And here’s another, more complete picture, of her at the Halloween party attended by UO professors, staff, and students.
This would be the most unbelievable story in the world–that a law professor at a prestigious state school would wear blackface–if it weren’t for the photographic proof. Making the story even more unbelievable is her excuse, which I almost find more offensive. As a law professor, you’d almost hope that her ability to defend herself would be phenomenal. Instead, she gave this frankly awful excuse.
I chose my costume based on a book that I read and liked—Black Man in a White Coat. I thought I would be able to teach with this costume as well (or at least tell an interesting story). When I asked my daughter who is at Brown Medical School the demographics of her medical school class, she said “they do not give those statistics out mom,” but later when she asked the administration, they said there was not one black male student in the class. She and others were outraged. She was able to get the administration to assign a portion of this book (the one where the black medical student was thought to be the janitor) out to students.
I am sorry if it did not come off well. I, of all people, would not want to offend [source].
First of all, if you close your eyes you can almost see the face of her daughter change from embarrassment for her mom to absolute horror as Nancy dragged her into this situation. Her daughter knows that blackface isn’t cool. But now she’s all of a sudden involved. Great job, mom.
Second, this defense makes zero sense. Nancy, are you saying that since you got everyone at your daughter’s school to realize that there were zero black students that you’re now able to educate people on race? Let’s hope not, because ask any person living in 2016 and they’ll tell you that blackface is a big no no.
As for the reactions of the community, you get one wild guess as to how the school is responding… They’re investigating the matter and Nancy has been placed on indefinite suspension. Here’s the University of Oregon’s statement.
The University of Oregon has been made aware that a faculty member of the School of Law wore a costume that included blackface at a private, off-campus Halloween party that was attended by UO faculty members and students.
We condemn this action unequivocally as anathema to the University of Oregon’s cherished values of racial diversity and inclusion. The use of blackface, even in jest at a Halloween party, is patently offensive and reinforces historically racist stereotypes. It was a stupid act and is in no way defensible [source].
And the black community at UO? They’re not happy about it. One letter calling for her resignation has been signed by 23 of her colleagues.