Skip to main content

University of North Texas legal staffer resigns after using racist slur during a free speech panel

Assistant General Counsel Caitlin Sewell was speaking about speech protected by the First Amendment when she used the word. People in attendance vocally expressed offense.

Former University of North Texas System assistant general counsel Caitlin Sewell.

*Correction appended

Editor's note: This article contains a reference to an offensive, racist word.

The assistant general counsel for the University of North Texas resigned Friday after using a racist slur to demonstrate First Amendment freedoms during a panel called “When Hate Comes to Campus.”

Caitlin Sewell was discussing how offensive words are protected by freedom of speech during the panel discussion Thursday.

According to video and audio posted to Twitter, Sewell took a pause before giving an example.

“It’s impossible to talk about the First Amendment without saying horrible things. ‘You’re just a dumb n— and I hate you.’ That alone, that’s protected speech,” Sewell told the audience.

Several people spoke from the audience to condemn Sewell for the use of the word.

“It was unnecessary, and it was cruel and you know that,” a member of the audience said.

“I hope this is a learning opportunity for you and that you will no longer say it in the future, and you will grow from this experience,” another person said.

UNT President Neal Smatresk expressed disappointment in Sewell’s use of the word on Twitter, despite her educational intention.

“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,” Smatresk said.

Sewell apologized during the panel, saying her intention wasn’t to offend anyone but rather be authentic in her demonstration of First Amendment freedoms.

“I just want to sincerely apologize. I did not mean to by any means offend anyone. I wish I had censored that word, it came out without thought. I sincerely apologize. I literally have never said that word in a public setting before. … I did not mean to, I was trying to be real,” Sewell said.

The Student Government Association president Yolian Ogbu called for Sewell’s resignation on Twitter, saying UNT administration would need to prove its commitment to anti-racism.

“So, you didn’t censor the n-word, but you definitely censored f—,” SGA Senator Daniel Ojo told The North Texas Daily. “Like, what’s more damaging to people? There is no word that I can say to describe a white person that is completely damaging to their character … that has like big historical context to it that can damage someone, but there are a plethora of words that can describe and damage minor marginalized students.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the publication that Ojo spoke to. It was The North Texas Daily.

Disclosure: The University of North Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Quality journalism doesn't come free

Yes, I'll donate today