*A white University of Tennessee Knoxville lecturer was fired after a black student challenged her teachings on slave history, then, accused the teacher of retaliation and inappropriate conduct in the wake of their debate.
Kayla Parker, a senior at UT, wrote about her ordeal with teacher Judy Morelock on the online forum Medium. She titled the piece: “Beware of Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: The Tale of A Progressive Professor Who Forgot To Hide Her Racism And Got Her Ass Fired.”
Parker, 22, said that in February she took a quiz in Morelock’s Sociology of the Family class, and one of the multiple choice questions centered on African-American families during slavery. Parker chose an answer that said black family bonds were destroyed by the abuse of slave owners who regularly sold off family members. But she got that question wrong.
According to her teacher, the right answer was that most slave families were headed by a two parents.
Parker said she emailed Morelock to ask if they could discuss the answer. Parker also said she was troubled by the research of two white male sociologists who were active in the 1950s and ’60s as the source for both Morelock’s argument and the correct answer to the quiz.
“She immediately got hostile with me and was like, ‘If you want your four points back, we can talk about that,'” Parker said. “I didn’t just want the four points though. I was like, ‘I want to actually be respected and for you to appreciate my concerns about how you’re portraying my history to a whole class of people.'”
Parker posted about their debate on Facebook, and family and friends began to weigh in. But she also noticed that Morelock was posting about their issue on her own FB page. Without ever mentioning Parker’s name, Morelock had several posts in which she threatened to release Parker’s name after she graduated.
“She’s on LinkedIn trying to establish professional contacts,” Morelock posted on Facebook March 24. “This will be fun!”
Federal law prohibits educators from releasing personally identifiable information related to a student’s academic record.
Morelock continued in the comment section of her FB post: “After the semester is over and she’s no longer my student, I will post her name, her picture and her bio on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. Count on it. For now, I’m bound by university rules that grant her more latitude in freedom of speech than I have. After she graduates and I retire, all bets are off.”
In her Medium post, Parker also does not name Morelock, but said her retaliation took place in the classroom as well.
“When class was in session, she began making backhanded comments directed at me. For example: ‘Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to bring the textbook to class today because my bag is full of other texts for a student who requires further evidence on subjects I teach in class,'” she wrote.
In early April, Parker said her teacher posted a meme of a wrapped present with the message: “I’m sorry if I upset you. Please accept this complimentary (sex toy) and go f— yourself.”
Given the timing and some of the other posts it followed on Morelock’s page, the student believed the message was directed at her. She showed it to the head of UT’s sociology department, along with other posts on Morelock’s page, and shortly after Morelock was fired.
“I’ve posted that meme several times on my page over the years,” Morelock said. “It has nothing to do with her.”
The university said Morelock’s job as a lecturer in the sociology department was terminated in April when the university bought out her contract, which was supposed to end in July. Spokeswoman Karen Simsen would not say why Morelock was fired part way through the spring semester and said the university was prohibited by federal law from discussing the exchange that took place between Morelock and Parker.
The move also came just months before the end of what was to be Morelock’s final year teaching at UT, as Simsen said the lecturer had been informed last year that the sociology department was going to be moving in a different academic direction and her contract would not be renewed after 2017.
Morelock, in a Facebook message to a reporter, said she had been advised by her attorney to not comment.
“But I have to say this: For this woman to publicly call me a racist is outrageous and unconscionable, as promoting racial justice has been a large part of my life’s work,” she said.
Parker said racism can manifest itself in other ways besides the use of certain words or overt discrimination.
“There are things that were brought up that I don’t think would have been said to a white student, like her suggesting that she can buy me books that are six dollars,” Parker said. “These are things that while they’re not slurs that are being thrown around and it’s not the ‘N’ word, they’re things that matter and that suggest there’s some bias behind why she’s treating me the way she’s treating me.”