Professor Emerson’s Nazi salute in class has fallout – the forward
A professor at Emerson College in Boston is under investigation after giving a Nazi salute in class last semester.
The accused professor, Brian McNeil, told the Berkeley Beacon, Emerson’s student newspaper, that his behavior was aimed at parodying the Nazis, but also admitted that his actions could have been “frowned upon.”
The incident, which was made public just weeks after a Hillel poster on campus was defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti, raises questions of intent versus impact, Peggy Shukur told The Beacon , Deputy Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League New England.
“I appreciate that this professor had no intention of offending people, but the impact of the use of a Nazi symbol on Jewish students and probably many others who were victimized, or who have had family members who fell victim to the Nazis – that’s really what we should be focusing on here, ”she said.
Shukur added, “With all due respect to the role of humor in the classroom, this particular area of Nazis, swastikas and those kinds of symbols is so deeply serious and impactful for so many communities that we really ask people to think before we shed light on them.
The event sparked an uproar from Emerson’s students and, in turn, an investigation after an Instagram post @JewishOnCampus accused McNeil, a visual and media arts teacher, of giving “the Hitler salute. to me and the other Jews in my class. “
According to McNeil, he first asked students in a quiz in his history of photography class if they knew the German translation of a photography term. “Because it’s all about perception,” he told The Beacon, it was possible that a Jewish student “thought I made them out. “
“But I don’t remember doing that.”
Then McNeil said he raised his hand and “sarcastically imitated a Nazi” to mock the verboten nature of August Sander’s “Face Our Time” photo series. “It was seen as a mockery of the Jews, but I was not,” he said. “I didn’t care about the Nazis. It was an anti-Nazi and sarcastic moment that I had made.
McNeil also said “there is no anti-Semitic behavior on my part,” noting that his father, a WWII bomber pilot, “was bombing the Nazis from hell” – and that his own wife is Jewish. He is taking a hiatus for at least the spring semester of 2022 while the investigation is ongoing.
Sadie Swayze, a Jewish student who witnessed the incident, said it was not the first time that McNeil, who has worked at Emerson since 1997, “has done something so questionable.”
“But that was the first time it was a little shocking,” they told The Beacon.
Aaron Baseman, another Jewish visual and media arts student in McNeil’s class, said the incident was taken out of context online, as it “was surrounded by a considerable amount of very anti-fascist context. and anti-Hitler “.
“There are some elements that he’s offline and maybe made slightly rude remarks, but I would never characterize them as hateful or intentionally discriminatory,” Baseman told The Beacon.
Despite McNeil’s sometimes offensive behavior, Swayze said they didn’t think McNeil wanted to hurt.
“I don’t think Brian is a completely evil and horrible person,” they told The Beacon. “He definitely showed his age and the level of ignorance that comes with being in the older generation – thinking you can say things and then get away with it.”
Emerson’s episode mirrors the screenplay for “The Chair,” a Netflix series released last year in which a professor is investigated after giving a Nazi salute in a bad attempt at humor during a Classes. The show itself may have been inspired by a 2018 incident when a high school math teacher inadvertently found himself in the posture of a ‘Heil Hitler’ salute while trying to demonstrate an obtuse angle. .