A longtime professor at Howard University School of Law has been ordered to attend sensitivity training and submit future exam questions for administrative review after several students complained about graphic test question involving a Brazilian wax.
A university administrator in May concluded that the Reginald Robinson’s test question, which appeared on a 2015 quiz in his agency law course, constituted sexual harassment. The university found problems with the question’s language, including the word “genital,” and because some students felt the question—which was part of an intermediate exam used to foster classroom discussion—was intended to force them to reveal whether they had had similar waxes themselves. (Read the test question here.)
Meanwhile, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which advocates for civil liberties on campus, has taken up Robinson’s cause, arguing that the finding of sexual harassment imperils faculty rights and the education Howard law students receive. The foundation in June unsuccessfully called for Howard to rescind the sanctions against Robinson, who has taught at the law school since 1994.
“My case should worry every faculty member at Howard University, and perhaps elsewhere, who teaches in substantive areas like law, medicine, history, and literature,” Robinson said in a written statement released last week through the foundation. “Why? None of these academic areas can be taught without evaluating and discussing contextual facts, especially unsavory and emotionally charged ones.”
A law school spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment Monday. Robinson was not immediately available for comment.
The exam question at issue involved a client who fell asleep during a waxing session at a salon and later sued the salon worker of improperly touching them. The question asks students how the court would find in the case. (Litigation over waxing mishaps is not unheard of. Here’s one example.)
The hypothetical provides an extensive explanation of what a “Full Brazilian” wax entails, including the phrases “hairless from belly button to buttocks,” and “access every follicle of public hair.”
One female student said that a salon client would not sleep through a wax during the post-exam discussion, and two students filed complaints against him alleging sexual harassment and gender-based harassment.
“Any student with even the most basic understanding of the first-year topics taught almost uniformly nationwide would expect such hypothetical questions, and any law student who graduates without having encountered such a question is likely a step behind in learning the knowledge necessary to become a licensed attorney,” the foundation wrote in a June 16 letter to Howard University President Wayne Frederick.
Robinson was informed that he may be terminated or face additional discipline if he’s found guilty of any other Title IX violations.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ