A Southwest Side Catholic school fired a longtime history teacher after she said the full N-word in class during a discussion of sports teams with racist names.
Mary DeVoto was teaching Native American culture for her World History class at Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School when a student brought up efforts to find a replacement for Chief Illiniwek at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
DeVoto, a teacher of 41 years, began discussing the former name of the Washington Football Team and why it was offensive to indigenous people. DeVoto told students the term was just as bad as the N-word, using the full word.
A student was recording the lecture for later note-taking and the video was quickly sent through the school. Later that day, the administration moved to suspend DeVoto, and following a meeting Monday, terminated her position.
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During meetings with the school administration, DeVoto said she used the N-word again while trying to explain the situation.
In a statement announcing DeVoto’s termination, the administration said the firing was made more necessary “because of a subsequent conversation with the teacher in which the same racial slur was communicated in its entirety several times despite clear and formal directives to stop.
“The N-word is never acceptable in any gathering of, or setting with, the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas,” the school said.
DeVoto told the Sun-Times she was just trying to make things clear to administrators but would never use the word again.
“You can’t just talk about wonderful things in history, we have to talk about the underbelly,” DeVoto said. “But I agree, I did not present that lesson well and it wasn’t conducive to the learning experience for my students. I am mortified and want to fix it.”
She hopes the school will give her an opportunity to apologize to her students, and she wishes she had been allowed to stay and use the mistake as a “learning opportunity.”
DeVoto’s daughters have started a change.org petition drive for their mother, hoping to push the school to reconsider the termination and to collect positive stories from former students.
On social media some expressed dismay at DeVoto’s firing, referring to it as an example of “cancel culture,” while others said the termination was justified because use of the word “is beyond insensitive.”
School officials have not yet commented on calls for reinstatement.