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Penn anthropology professor Robert Schuyler at the virtual Society for Historical Archaeology conference plenary session. (Photo from Liz Quinlan)

A Penn professor used a Nazi phrase and salute during a brief altercation with a speaker at a national archaeological conference on Wednesday, outraging colleagues. 

Robert Schuyler, who teaches anthropology and is the associate curator-in-charge of the historical archaeology section at the Penn Museum, held his arm in a Nazi salute and said “Sieg heil to you” after believing a speaker cut him off in an attempt to suppress free speech. Schuyler confirmed with The Daily Pennsylvanian that he used the salute and Nazi phrase, but added that he regrets his choice of words and does not endorse Nazism.

University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy and School of Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Fluharty did not respond to inquiries about whether Schuyler would face disciplinary action for his rhetoric at the Society for Historical Archaeology conference plenary session.

The phrase "Sieg heil," which translates to "Hail victory," was a widely used slogan for the Nazi Party in Germany. After World War II, the phrase was adopted by white supremacists in North America and elsewhere.

As University of York Ph.D. candidate Liz Quinlan was answering a question about increasing accessibility to future virtual or hybrid SHA conferences, Schuyler was granted permission to speak by the event's moderator, University of West Florida faculty member and Associate Director of the Florida Public Archaeology Network Della Scott-Ireton. After concurring with Quinlan about increasing accessibility to virtual conferences, Schuyler made a plea for SHA members to attend their annual meeting in Philadelphia in 2022. 

When Schuyler subsequently asked how the pandemic impacted membership renewals for 2021, Quinlan tried to redirect the conversation to the original topic of accessibility to virtual conferences. 

"I’m sorry, but I have freedom of speech, and you’re not going to tell me it’s not the place for me to bring this up,” Schuyler said, believing that Quinlan had cut him off.

Quinlan said she was trying to utilize the speaker position the SHA granted her to discuss access to virtual conferences, to which Schuyler said, "No, you're not," before using the Nazi phrase and salute. Schuyler said he used the Nazi phrase and salute to reference the limits on freedom of speech in Nazi Germany. He added that he began to regret his decision a few moments later after he received emails from other archaeologists saying that he should be censored and removed from the SHA.

The Penn Museum denounced Schuyler’s actions but declined to state whether he will face any repercussions.

“The Penn Museum condemns this reprehensible behavior and dangerous rhetoric,” Penn Museum Public Relations Director Jill DiSanto wrote in an email to the DP. “It is the antithesis of who we are and what we stand for.”

After the meeting, Quinlan filed a complaint with the SHA, in which she wrote that while she has dealt with interruptions in the past as a queer, disabled archaeologist, this incident was especially demoralizing because she was an invited speaker at the conference.

“To not only be interrupted, but to be spoken to with such vitriol and anger by a senior researcher in my field is demoralizing, embarrassing, and deeply upsetting,” Quinlan wrote. “The apparent inclusion of a Nazi salute and reference to a Nazi victory cry, whether done in jest or otherwise, is both enormously offensive and abhorrent.” 

Schuyler said he believes he owes Quinlan an apology but has not reached out to her as he is awaiting advice from senior people in his field about how to approach the situation. He added that he asked the current SHA president to serve as a "go-between" for him and Quinlan, but has not yet received her contact.

After watching a recording of the meeting, Anthropology Department Chair Kathleen Morrison notified the Penn Museum, the provost, and the deans of the School of Arts and Sciences to set up meetings. Morrison described Schuyler’s actions as “appalling” and said they do not align with the values of the Anthropology Department or the Penn Museum.

“I don’t think it’s healthy for him to be in contact with students,” she said. 

Schuyler's use of the Nazi phrase gained attention on social media on Saturday when adjunct assistant professor in anthropology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill Kristina Killgrove posted a six-tweet thread explaining the incident.

"On Wednesday evening, just after white nationalists stormed the U.S. Capitol, a panel in the Society for Historical Archaeology annual conference was kicked off. And a well-known white male professor used Nazi language and gesture to intimidate a younger woman panelist," Killgrove wrote.

 

The first tweet in Killgrove's thread has been retweeted more than 435 times as of Saturday evening. Her tweet has been quoted more than 230 times, with Twitter users expressing disgust at Schuyler's actions.

In addition to filing her complaint with the SHA, Quinlan shared the same complaint with the Register of Professional Archaeologists, of which Schuyler is a member. She wrote in an email to the DP that both organizations are in the process of investigating the incident or have already informed her of the decisions they made about the matter.

In her letter, Quinlan asked the SHA to censure Schuyler, take concrete steps to ensure the incident does not repeat itself, and bar Schuyler from attending future meetings.

“Actions have been taken internally to rectify the situation and ensure that a situation like this is addressed in a more timely manner moving forward,” SHA Executive Director Karen Hutchinson wrote in an email to the DP. 

Schuyler, however, said he does not believe he should be disciplined for his actions.

“I think I should be yelled at, but, again, I think there’s a very fine line between that and suddenly we’ve all lost our freedom of speech,” Schuyler said.

Morrison said she does not yet know what she wants to happen to Schuyler and is currently working with the dean and the provost, adding that this sort of decision is "above [her] pay grade."

“We’re not going to just let this go,” Morrison said. “This is something that we take quite seriously.”

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