Officials examining allegation about assignment involving anti-Semitic metaphor

By Jun 3, 2021 1:10 PM

Updated: June 3, 2021 at 6:00 p.m.

Officials are “looking into” an incident in which an anonymous student alleged a professor assigned a paper about Adolf Hitler’s public speaking skills and required students to analyze an anti-Semitic metaphor he used.

In a post on the “Jewish on Campus” Instagram account last week, an anonymous student said a professor in a public speaking class required students to write a paper on how Hitler was an “effective” speaker. The student said the professor instructed students “to do an in-depth unpacking” of a metaphor Hitler used to describe Jewish people as a cancer or infestation that must be terminated.

“After describing the cancer metaphor, he then says, ‘and what do we do to cancer, we terminate it,’” the student said in the post. “He prefaced the assignment by saying we are to look at this through an objective lens and essentially disregard who Hitler is.”

Officials commented on the post from GW’s Instagram account, saying that the University and the Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement are “looking into” the situation. The comment states officials encourage students who were impacted by the incident to reach out through the office’s email or its bias incident reporting website.

Caroline Laguerre-Brown, the vice provost for diversity, equity and community engagement, said officials learned about the post last Thursday and “immediately” posted from their own Instagram account, acknowledging the post, sharing a list of “resources and reporting mechanisms” and encouraging impacted students to submit a bias report.  She said the University has no way of identifying the student who submitted the post, since the account is not owned by the University. 

“ODECE has been and will continue to attempt to identify involved parties so we can learn more and address any concerns,” Laguerre-Brown said in an email.

In an interview, another student, who asked to remain anonymous because she’s unaware of the identity of the professor mentioned in the post and doesn’t want to invalidate the student’s allegations, said she had a similar assignment in her public communication class where students could write about the same speech and metaphor referenced in the Instagram post.

But she said the topic on Hitler’s speech was one of three options for the paper, and the two other prompts didn’t mention Hitler. She said the prompt – based on an essay entitled “Rhetorical functions of the infestation metaphor in Hitler’s rhetoric,” according to a screenshot of her assignment – asked students to write about a critique of Hitler’s speech rather than the speech itself.

The student said the Instagram post’s description of the assignment might have been worded “out of context” if it’s referring to the same professor and assignment that she previously experienced.

“It’s not directly looking at the speech itself by that person,” the student said. “It was a scholar that is critiquing the essay or the speech itself, and you are critiquing that critique. So it’s not anything where you’re directly looking at Hitler’s works or anything. It’s a guy that’s basically writing about that work.”

Neither the student who submitted the Instagram post or spoke through an interview shared the identity of their professor.

This post has been updated to clarify the following:
This post has been updated to clarify that neither student shared the identity of their professor, and the student who spoke through an interview requested anonymity because she didn’t want to discredit any allegations from the Instagram post.

This article appeared in the June 4, 2021 issue of the Hatchet.

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