One Georgetown Law professor has been fired and another placed on administrative leave after one’s comments disparaging Black students were recorded via Zoom.
Sandra Sellers and David Batson, the two professors, had a conversation regarding Black students’ performance in their classes at the end of a lecture last month. Their comments were included in the recorded lecture, said Hassan Ahmad, a student at Georgetown Law who posted a snippet of the video on Twitter.
In the snippet, Sellers says: “I end up having this angst every semester that a lot of my lower ones are Blacks,” referencing lower grades. “Happens almost every semester. And it’s like, ‘Oh, come on.’ It’s some really good ones, but there are also usually some that are just plain at the bottom, it drives me crazy.”
Though Batson says little in the video and is not heard making disparaging comments of his own, he also does not appear to challenge Sellers.
Sellers intended to resign but has been fired, wrote Bill Treanor, the dean and executive vice president of the Georgetown Law Center, in a letter to students and staff Thursday. Batson is on administrative leave while the Office of Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action investigates, the letter says.
“We are taking significant steps to ensure that all students in this class are fairly graded without the input of Professor Sellers or Professor Batson,” Treanor wrote. “This is by no means the end of our work to address the many structural issues of racism reflected in this painful incident, including explicit and implicit bias, bystander responsibility, and the need for more comprehensive anti-bias training. This is a matter of great concern to me.”
Ahmad said the video was discovered Sunday and reported Monday, though CNN was not able to confirm by whom. The full video has been taken down and is not available publicly.
Sellers: ‘I want all my students to excel’
CNN reached out to Sellers and Batson for comment. Batson did not return CNN’s requests, and Sellers referred to her resignation letter, in which she apologizes for her “hurtful and misdirected remarks.”
“While the video of this incident is an excerpt from a longer discussion about class participation patterns, not overall grades, it doesn’t diminish the insensitivity I have demonstrated,” Sellers wrote. “I would never do anything to intentionally hurt my students or Georgetown Law and wish I could take back my words. Regardless of my intent, I have done irreparable harm and I am truly sorry for this.”
She continued, “I want all my students to excel in negotiation and mediation, which is why I have taught these courses at Georgetown for almost 20 years. When this does not occur, it reflects shortcomings on my part, not just on the part of any single student. It is my responsibility to do all I can to correct this. My comments were the inarticulate reflection of long soul searching. I must do better to understand and address these issues.”
It’s a ‘systemic issue,’ Black students say
The Georgetown Black Law Students Association, in a letter to the Georgetown Law administration and posted on Twitter, said it had earlier called for Sellers’ termination.
“Not only is this situation revealing of Sellers’ true beliefs about Black students, it is also illustrative of the conscious and unconscious bias systemically present in law school grading at Georgetown Law and in law school classrooms nationwide,” the students wrote Thursday. “The difference is that Sellers was caught and her racism was broadcast for the world to see.”
The association is calling for a public apology from Batson for “his failure to adequately condemn Sellers’ statements.” It is also asking for an assessment of the grading system, an audit of Sellers’ past grading and more Black faculty to be hired.
What makes Sellers’ comments so “disturbing,” said Nardos Bekele, vice president of administration for the Georgetown Black Law Students Association (BLSA), is that they were made “offhand in a video that she didn’t think was going to get released.”
“There is a systemic issue that we are experiencing as law students, and this video is indicative of that,” Bekele said. “As a Black student in law school, whether it be at Georgetown or not, it’s very frightening that these conversations are happening and we just know about this one.”
Ahmad told CNN class lectures are continuously recorded until everyone leaves the Zoom call. And because Sellers and Batson stayed on the call, it kept recording – and was eventually uploaded for students to see. He told CNN he is not enrolled in the class but got the recording from a friend who was.
In his Thursday email, Treanor, the dean and executive vice president of the law school, said the school would continue “our work to address the many structural issues of racism reflected in this painful incident, including explicit and implicit bias, bystander responsibility, and the need for more comprehensive anti-bias training.”
But last summer, the BLSA made a number of requests at the height of the systemic racism protests. Maxine Walters, the association’s president, says student organizations asked the school to add critical race theory to the criminal justice course for first-year law students, mandate a racial justice requirement before graduation, and create a bias reporting system for the law school.
Walters says such a reporting system “would have been perfect in this situation,” noting that none of their requests have “been solidified, and it’s March.”
CNN reached out to the university regarding those requests, but has not heard back.
“We need to stop being reactive,” Bekele said, “and we need to be proactive.”