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Case 13. Harassment on the Basis of Ethnicity/Political Allegiance


It is the first day of class in Professor Edwin Kowalski's course in the sociology of social change. As a way of getting to know his students and getting them to know each other, he asks them to take turns telling the class something about themselves. One student says her name and then says: "I'm from Persia." Professor Kowalski replies: "This is a course in social change; you mean Iran." The student doesn't reply. Professor Kowalski smiles at her warmly and looks over her head to signal that the next student should introduce himself. Although not actively hostile, the student in question seems cool, distant and critical to Professor Kowalski as he observes her during the next few class sessions. She does not participate in class discussion and Professor Kowalski feels that her behavior is somehow meant to challenges his legitimacy. He begins to call on her in class and use the following phrase in doing so: "Ms. Persia, what do you think?" As the deadline for dropping courses approaches, Professor Kowalski is informed that the student has dropped the class.


  1. Is Professor Kowalski engaging in harassment by repeatedly referring to the student as "Ms. Persia"?
  2. Is Professor Kowalski acting unethically by letting his own insecurity prompt him to behave this way toward a student?
  3. Does Professor Kowalski have an ethical obligation to try to understand what seems to be going on with this student?

Reflect on the above questions and form your own answers before clicking the discussion key to review the commentary provided with this case.