(New York, NY) – The University of Massachusetts at Amherst suspended an instructor for the remainder of the fall semester after students complained that she shared videos with offensive content. PEN America today said the professor, while perhaps showing poor judgment, should not be immediately disciplined.

The professor, Catherine West Lowry, was encouraging students to create humorous extra-credit videos on topics related to her class. She shared past examples, which included excerpts from a film about Hitler dubbed over with a joke about gas chambers. Another parodied a hip hop song “Bust Down Thotiana,” which some students found derogatory to women. Lowry has since apologized, and the university’s investigation into her conduct is ongoing. 

“Punishing a professor for sharing satirical videos created by students, even offensive ones, would be flat wrong,” said Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s campus free speech project director. “As an organization of writers, artists, and their allies, PEN America is committed to protecting creative expression and defending space for open dialogue in the classroom.

“The videos here may have been offensive, but if professors can face disciplinary action for circulating student-made projects, that can have a chilling effect on how students and faculty engage in the learning process. Much humor and satire pushes the boundaries of decorum, but this was, if anything, a teaching opportunity rather than grounds for an investigation. It is true that Lowry might have used better judgement, but university leaders must not rush to formal investigations and discipline in cases where direct dialogue and engagement would be more appropriate.”


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

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