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Prof. accused of wearing blackface to Halloween party under pressure at Univ. of Oregon

Several law students identified that professor as Nancy Shurtz. On Thursday afternoon, law students held a closed-door forum inside the law school to discuss the allegations and how to move forward. Some students leaving the forum described a tense atmosphere. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. (KVAL) - The allegations that a University of Oregon law professor wore a blackface costume to a Halloween party have rocked – and divided – the law school community.

Several law students identified that professor as Nancy Shurtz.

On Thursday morning, more than 20 law school faculty members released an open letter calling blackface “patently offensive” and “overtly racist," saying there is “no excuse” and demanding their colleague’s resignation.

That assessment resembles an earlier statement from University officials. President Michael Schill and other university leaders wrote that "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."

On Thursday afternoon, law students held a closed-door forum inside the law school to discuss the allegations and how to move forward.

Some students leaving the forum described a tense atmosphere.

Brigette Borup said there was disagreement about what the repercussions should be.

“Horrible choice of a costume,” she said. “It was a very poor choice. But I also think that ostracizing somebody is not the way to go about doing it.”

Borup said Shurtz made a poor choice.

“This is a woman that’s done a lot of good for the community, who hugely failed, when she was trying to do something – she was trying to bring about a dialogue,” Borup said.

Shelby Hanssen had much harsher words.

Asked if Shurtz should resign, Hanssen said “absolutely. Unequivocally. Yes. Intent doesn’t matter. It’s symbolic, and racist. That’s it. Period.”

Hanssen said this incident has affected friends of hers who are students of color.

“Ultimately that’s who’s directly affected,” she said. “If you don’t feel safe in your school, where are you supposed to feel safe?”

Hanssen hopes the University will do more to support students of color.

The UO’s Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity is currently looking into the complaint and will determine if the Halloween costume violated University policy.

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