The Drake Law School is investigating an incident in which a student allegedly wrote a note using an anti-LGBTQ slur during a class, according to an email sent to the law school community by Dean Jerry Anderson on Sept. 26.
“A situation arising in a law school classroom was reported last week which raises questions about our community’s commitment to professionalism and civility,” Anderson said in the email. “The report concerned a student writing a note using a slur disparaging LGBTQIA people.”
Second-year law student Nicole Lancaster, who identifies as part of the LGBTQ community, was in the classroom when the incident occurred. According to Lancaster, the class had been discussing the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, in which the court ruled that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry guaranteed by the due process clause and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
“A note card was written…they (the student) were trying to act like they were putting the name of the case and then facts about the case on the back of it,” Lancaster said. “And when they were writing the facts about the case on the back of it, they used a homophobic slur.”
The student then allegedly showed the note card containing the anti-LGBTQ slur to three other students, including Lancaster.
“I really got uncomfortable. Because when I first saw it, I was just honestly shocked,” Lancaster said. “Like, it was a complete shock to think that somebody would even write it really, especially…that it was not a word that’s used ever anymore. So definitely, shock was one of my first reactions.”
Lancaster believes the student intended it as a joke and lacked “the emotional competency to understand that it wasn’t okay to say.”
“They have met my fiancée, and I don’t think they understood how hurtful that specific word could be,” Lancaster said. “I think they knew that it was something that you didn’t say – like, they showed me as a joke. And they stated multiple times that they’ve shown me other jokes and everything, but it was nothing that ever went to…a slur.”
A fellow classmate reported the incident to law school administration, who conducted interviews with the students involved. Lancaster was interviewed twice about the situation and was pleased with the immediate action from law school leaders.
“They were offering a lot of support. They handled this situation with a lot of grace, especially because of how the rumor mill kind of started,” Lancaster said. “They also have taken it upon themselves to go ahead and deal with it in a manner that they think appropriate. And they also asked me if I felt like I wanted them to do anything else…so we have talked about bringing in a diversity, equity and inclusion speaker that they want to set up like a seminar just to better understand and help people be educated on this stuff.”
Other students who spoke with Lancaster after the incident shared her concerns about the note, especially given that “integrity is a huge thing” in the field of law, she said.
“It definitely had an impact on a lot of people, especially in the LGBT community, because the slur was just something that is very hurtful,” Lancaster said. “And so it had a large impact on not just me who saw it, but once a rumor started going…I’ve talked to a lot of them (students) and it’s made a lot of people upset. And really, people I think are just upset that’s still happening, because we feel like we’re a really close class and that we are better than that.”
In his Sept. 26 email, Anderson reminded the law school community of the Code of Student Conduct and the pledge that incoming law students took during orientation, which includes a promise to “service without prejudice, integrity without compromise and to civility and professionalism in all my interactions.”
“The dean’s office will investigate any allegations of misconduct in accordance with the procedures set out in the Code of Student Conduct and take appropriate action,” Anderson said in the email. “Please know that these investigations take time but that we work diligently toward resolution in a timely manner.”
In the email, Anderson reiterated the law school’s dedication to supporting historically marginalized groups and acknowledged the harm caused by incidents like this.
“I hope that as a community we can reinforce these principles and focus on fostering the supportive environment we all want at Drake Law,” Anderson said in the email. “In that regard, I have asked the chair of our Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee to consider what kinds of structured conversations or other programming might help us improve our awareness and understanding of each other.”
Anderson declined a request for comment, citing the ongoing Student Code of Conduct investigation.
Managing editor Lia Reichmann contributed to reporting.