NMCI director apologizes for use of ethnic term

The director of the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet program has been 'counseled' for using a derogatory ethnic term during a conference call with other Navy personnel, contracting staff and employees of the University of New Orleans.

Rear Adm. James Godwin III, director of the $8.8 billion program, used the word "coonass"'a derogatory term directed at Cajuns'when addressing people on the Jan. 21 call, held to discuss progress on the Navy Product Evaluation Center in New Orleans.

GCN obtained a copy of a string of e-mails discussing reactions to the conference call. In response to a call for comment, Rear Adm. T. McCreary, Navy chief of information, said Godwin had apologized.

'Adm. Godwin's comments were inappropriate. He recognized that following the conference call and called all the participants that he knew were on the call to apologize personally," McCreary said. "He brought this issue to the chain of command's attention immediately and has been appropriately counseled."

McCreary didn't elaborate on whether Godwin was disciplined.

Two days after the conference call, a Navy employee who was on the call sent an e-mail to his boss seeking to do "damage control."

'During the call there were several very derogatory references to either our SSC [Spawar Systems Command] New Orleans staff and or University of New Orleans staff as 'Coonasses' with at least one reference of something like 'how would it look in the Washington Post with one Coonass doing business with another Coonass?' The New Orleans end were obviously shocked and surprised," the Navy employee wrote in the e-mail notifying senior leadership.

The employee's supervisor sent a subsequent message to Gary Federici, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for C4I and space with the subject line "Potential issue - damage control."

The term is used against Cajun people in New Orleans, according to Warren A. Perrin, president of the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana. But in 1981, the Louisiana Legislature condemned the use of the word.

'The most insulting and derogatory term levied against Acadians is the term 'Coonass'. The use of this offensive term reaffirms negative stereotypes and its vestiges of pre-civil rights era racial discrimination," Perrin said in a copy of a letter he forwarded to GCN.

At least one of the conference call participants said she was surprised that the word was used, although she wasn't offended. According to several Louisiana residents, some people take offense to the term, while others don't.

'It was a good conference call. We work very closely with the group here," said Norma Grace, vice chancellor in the Office of Technology and Economic Development at the University of New Orleans. "Was it a surprise? Yes, but we're fine with it."

Godwin is a graduate of Tulane University, also in New Orleans.

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