UMKC student sues professor, curators over use of racial slur

Friday, August 17, 2007 | 1:18 p.m. CDT; updated 4:39 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

KANSAS CITY — A University of Missouri-Kansas City graduate student is suing a professor who she said addressed her in a classroom using a racial slur and other expletives.

The discrimination lawsuit filed by student DeLana Sattarin names sociology and criminal justice professor Peter Singelmann and the University of Missouri System curators as defendants.

Sattarin claims that the January incident led her to drop out of Singelmann’s Globalization and Developing Nations class, which resulted in her not having enough credit hours to graduate in May.

In a report compiled by UMKC Affirmative Action Director Grace Hernandez, Singelmann admitted using the racial slur several times during the Jan. 18 class. However, according to the report, he claimed he used the term only to make a point during a discussion with students about free speech.

Singelmann did not return phone calls Thursday left for him by The Associated Press at his office and home.

Sattarin told The Associated Press that she doesn’t feel Singelmann has fully acknowledged that his comments were wrong. She said he’s never verbally apologized to her directly.

The university has mishandled the situation, too, she said.

“They just tapped his hand and said ‘You did a bad thing. It’s OK. You go back in the classroom,’ Sattarin said late Thursday afternoon by telephone. “That’s not right.”

She said the university would have been harder on a student for using the same language that Singelmann did, and added that UMKC officials should consider firing the professor.

“I don’t think sensitivity training is enough for him,” Sattarin said. “He just has this attitude that it’s OK and that he can get away with it because he’s a tenured professor. I think this lawsuit is making him and the university believers that you can’t do this and get away with it.”

According to the lawsuit in Jackson County Circuit Court, a lecture on totalitarian and authoritarian societies led to a discussion about the Patriot Act.

Sattarin, who is black, commented that the act should never have been passed because she felt it violated people’s rights.

The lawsuit claims that Singelmann reluctantly agreed with Sattarin and then took his comments further, using the racial slur three times and following up with other expletives.

“I was really humiliated, because he did this in front of nine other students,” Sattarin told the AP.

Only one of the other students was black, she said. The rest were white.

Sattarin filed a complaint with the university. At least two of her classmates also wrote letters complaining about the incident. An investigation by Hernandez, the affirmative action director, followed.

In April, Hernandez said she had concluded that Singelmann’s comments were insensitive, but that the Affirmative Action Office could not substantiate the racial discrimination claim.

Sattarin was reimbursed the tuition for Singelmann’s class.

According to Hernandez’s report, Singelmann “expressed regret for having hurt and offended students and promised that he would not use the N-word in its full form in the future.”

Singelmann was ordered to write an apology, given a letter of reprimand and required to attend sensitivity training, according to the report.

Sattarin, in the lawsuit, claims the professor’s apology was weak and nothing more than an “inverse justification” of his comments in class that day.

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Ellis Smith August 19, 2007 | 7:36 a.m.

Good for DeLana Sattarin! Some professors seem to think they are immune to accepted standards of decency - and it isn't necessary to drive to Kansas City to find them.

One does not need a PhD to understand the difference between "academic freedom" and "academic license."

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