A journalism professor at the University of Oklahoma compared calling someone a "boomer" (a jokingly derogatory reference to an older person) to calling someone a racial slur during a class, according to the OU Daily student newspaper.
Peter Gade is the director of graduate studies at OU's journalism school, and he teaches the capstone course required for every journalism student to graduate.
During a Tuesday morning class, attended by several OU Daily staffers, Gade said journalism should stick to traditional roots even in the face of advances in technology and social media. A student responded by arguing that journalists need to keep up with younger generations.
Gade reportedly responded by saying the student's reply was equivalent of telling him, "OK, boomer," a popular online phrase that is typically used to mock someone who holds a perspective considered to be outdated. His comment was received with laughter, before Gade took things a step further.
"Calling someone a boomer is like calling someone a n****r," Gade said.
Some students were so offended that they left the class immediately. There were several black students present at the time. Gade reportedly apologized later in the class period, but the damage was done.
The interim president of the university, Joseph Harroz Jr., condemned Gade's comment.
"While the professor's comments are protected by the First Amendment and academic freedom, his comment and word choice are fundamentally offensive and wrong," Harroz said. "The use of the most offensive word, by a person in a position of authority, hurt and minimized those in the classroom and beyond."
Gade wrote a more detailed apology in an email to students Tuesday evening.
"I made an inexcusable mistake this morning in class with my choice of a word," Gade wrote in an email to students. "I was wrong. I am sorry. I realize the word is hurtful and infuses the racial divisions of our country, past and present. Use of this word is inappropriate in any — especially educational — settings. I offer my deepest and most sincere apologies. In the coming weeks, I will strive to show you that I am an instructor and teacher who is trustworthy and respectful of all. Please give me that opportunity."
It is currently unclear what, if any, discipline Gade might face for the incident.
The University of Oklahoma has had some racism issues in the past. In 2015, video was published of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity members singing a racist chant that included references to lynching and racial slurs. Students on campus protested, the violating fraternity members were expelled, and the fraternity was suspended from the campus.
Several incidents of students wearing blackface have occurred in the past couple of years as well.