Less than a week after her contentious outburst went viral, a Georgia principal has been fired. The incident marks the latest high-profile and racially charged controversy to shake up the education world. Nancy Gordeuk is the founder and former principal of the TNT Academy—a private secondary school that offers “nontraditional” education and independent-study opportunities to address “the needs of public-school students that are bored in a classroom and are starting to get into trouble,” according to its website. She became infamous last weekend after a video featuring her speech and subsequent comments at the academy’s graduation ceremony spread across the internet.
According to reports, Gordeuk accidentally dismissed the audience before the school valedictorian could give his remarks. Following her instructions, the attendees began to file out. Then Gordeuk, realizing her error, called them back: “You people are being so rude to not listen to this speech,” she said. “It was my fault that we missed the speech in the program. Look who’s leaving—all the black people!”
This comment, unsurprisingly, prompted an uproar from people in the audience, and the video shows several African American honors graduates storming off the stage.
She also made a statement to MyFoxAtlanta. An abridged version of her description of the incident read:
To address the incident at the graduation ceremony of May 8. Please keep the facts in perspective. An unknown man at the beginning of a speech decided to walk up to the front of the audience with his tablet, videotaping the audience and the students causing disruption to the audience and disrespect to the ceremony and its participants. When disregarding the request to please sit down, the security was asked to remove the man. At that point, booing of the request commenced. Frustrated with the prospect of ruining the once-in-a-lifetime ceremony the graduates have worked so hard for, my emotions got the best of me and that is when I blurted out “you people are being so rude to not listen to this speech (valedictorian).” It was my fault that we missed the speech in the program. I look to the left where the man was and all I saw was a mass of people leaving and I said Look who's leaving, all the black people. At that point, members of the audience began to leave.
Despite her attempts to rectify the situation, Gordeuk lost her job on Thursday. Heidi Anderson, who chairs TNT Academy’s board, wrote a letter to the Gwinnett County NAACP, notifying the group of the decision:
In one of her post-incident interviews, Gordeuk reasoned that the phrase “black people” isn’t inherently racist. “I didn't know ‘black people’ was a racist term,” she told NBC News. “I didn't say the N-word or anything like that, because it’s not in my vocabulary.”
In another interview with Fox 5, Gordeuk remained perplexed: “People just think the worst, you know? That, oh, you say the word ‘black’—what was I supposed to say? ‘African American’? Were they all born in Africa? No, they are Americans and they live here.”
Regardless of Gordeuk’s postmortem comments, the way she uttered the phrase “black people”—her tone seemingly snide and disparaging—suggests that her remark may have been less innocent than she made it out to be.
The prompt reaction by school administrations to similar incidents elsewhere is noteworthy. Just two months ago at the University of Oklahoma (OU), student members of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were seen singing a racist chant on video. The OU administration’s response was swift. Within days the chapter was shut down, the members were evicted from their frat house, and two students were expelled.
And while expulsion then, or firing now, may initially seem harsh or premature, more educational institutions seem to be enacting zero-tolerance policies in an effort to stamp out racism—even when the intention could be deemed ambiguous. Whether responding to something as subtle as the use of the term “black people” or as overt as a chant about lynching, schools are making it increasingly clear that they won’t tolerate such behavior.