UNT Attorney Resigns After Using N-Word During Campus Panel Discussion

A University of North Texas attorney used a racial slur Thursday evening during a panel discussion on First Amendment protections.
A University of North Texas attorney used a racial slur Thursday evening during a panel discussion on First Amendment protections. Michael Barera / Wiki Commons
12:53 p.m.: This story has been updated to include news of Sewell's resignation.

A University of North Texas attorney resigned Friday after coming under fire for using the N-word during a campus panel discussion on First Amendment protections.

Caitlin Sewell, assistant general counsel for the UNT System, used the word as an example of protected speech during a panel discussion titled "When Hate Comes to Campus." UNT officials released a statement Friday morning announcing that Sewell had submitted her resignation.
During Thursday's panel discussion, Sewell said it was "impossible to talk about the First Amendment without saying horrible things."

"You know, 'You're just a dumb (N-word) and I hate you.' That alone, that's protected speech," Sewell said.

A UNT student posted a recording of the panel discussion, which includes Sewell's use of the word and, later, audience members confronting her about it.

"If you walk into the dean of students' office and start screaming obscenities about 'F this place, F all of you, you're all F-ing stupid,' they can escort you out, and they can do that immediately. And you say 'No, that's my free speech right, no, I can tell them all to F off anytime I want,'" Sewell says in the recording. "No, no. Because you're in a non-public forum in that setting, and so the restriction only needs to be reasonable in order for you to do that."

Moments later, a member of the audience questions Sewell.

"Excuse me," the audience member asks. "But why did you censor the F-word but not the N-word?"

Members of the audience applaud. Some shout that her use of the word was unnecessary and cruel.

"I apologize, I didn't mean anything by that, it didn't even occur to me," Sewell says.

After the panel, UNT President Neal Smatresk posted a statement to Twitter, acknowledging Sewell was trying to make a point about the First Amendment but condemning her use of the word.

"During the 'When Hate Comes to Campus' panel discussion this evening, a member of the UNT System legal staff used a racial epithet that was not reflective of the values of our university community," Smatresk wrote. "While the individual was trying to make a point about First Amendment speech, this language is never condoned in our community which prides itself on our diversity and caring nature."
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Silas Allen has been the Dallas Observer's news editor since March 2019. Before coming to Dallas, he worked as a reporter and editor at the Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. He's a Missouri native and a graduate of the University of Missouri.
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