Professor's 'OK Boomer' Comparison Blows Up

University of Oklahoma denounces Peter Gade's comments in class
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 12, 2020 1:32 PM CST
Updated Feb 16, 2020 10:50 AM CST
OU Professor Compares 'OK Boomer' to N-Word
A view of the The Stephenson Research and Technology Center on the campus of The University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla. on Friday, Dec. 17, 2010.   (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

A University of Oklahoma journalism professor is in hot water after using the n-word in class—and claiming that the phrase "OK boomer" is comparable to the racial slur. Peter Gade, who has been on the school's faculty since 1998, is director of graduate studies at the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. As the OU Daily first reported, the incident started during a class discussion Tuesday morning on advances in technology and the use of social media. Gade argued that journalism should stick to its traditional roots, and when a student pushed back that the profession needs to keep up with younger generations, things went sideways:

  • The comment: After first telling the student that his remark was the equivalent of saying "OK boomer" to Gade, the class laughed—but Gade continued. "Calling someone a boomer is like calling someone a n-----," he said, according to the student newspaper. (Multiple student reporters were in the class at the time.)
  • His initial response: Students called Gade out on his use of the n-word, and he tried to defend it, the newspaper reports. He also apologized if he offended anyone, as some students walked out of class.

  • The school's initial response: Students complained to higher-ups, and one of the first responses given to the Daily was not particularly strong: "I’m not sure that (type of language) does (have a place in the classroom)," the dean of Gaylord College said. "Perhaps it did once upon a time. Perhaps he was using it as an educational tool. We have no record at all of Dr. Gade, a distinguished professor who's been on the faculty here for more than 20 years, of him ever using this term, much less any kind of other racially inflamed language."
  • The school's current response: The incident started making headlines nationally, sparking outrage, and the interim OU president then issued a statement cited by the Daily; he said that while Gade's speech was protected by the first amendment, it was "fundamentally offensive and wrong." "The use of the most offensive word, by a person in a position of authority, hurt and minimized those in the classroom and beyond," he said.
  • Gade's status: So far, no word on whether Gade will be disciplined by the school, but multiple students say they don't feel comfortable returning to the class while he is still at the helm. The university says it is discussing the matter with students and will continue to do so to figure out how to move forward.
  • Repercussions? The school's student chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists says there must be repercussions. "We are not surprised by the actions of the professor who ironically teaches Journalism, Ethics and Democracy," it says in a statement. "Nor are we surprised that people still don’t understand that insults like 'OK, boomer' do not create the same uneasiness that the historical slur n----- does." OU's Black Emergency Response Team also tweeted a statement calling for "full action [to] be taken against the professor and college."
  • Gade's current response: By Tuesday night, the Daily reports Gade had emailed the students in his class an apology. "I realize the word was hurtful and infuses the racial divisions of our country, past and present," he wrote. "Use of the word is inappropriate in any—especially educational—settings." The dean also issued his own statement later, referencing Gade's own use of the term as an "inexcusable mistake" and promising students their experiences matter.
  • Campus culture: OU has made headlines multiple times in recent years for racist incidents on campus, and some were making the connection between that atmosphere and Gade's attitude. "people at OU get mad about the racist frat/sorority incidents. all i’m saying is that it starts from the top. i’m saddened that we had to make the national news for this," reads one sample tweet.
  • Definition: What exactly does "OK boomer" mean? Time reports that while defines it as "a viral internet slang phrase used, often in a humorous or ironic manner, to call out or dismiss out-of-touch or close-minded opinions associated with the Baby Boomer generation and older people more generally," there's so much nuance to it it's difficult to nail down a simple definition. Some critics insist it's an ageist slur.
(Read more University of Oklahoma stories.)

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