Eighteen students at Arizona State University are enrolled in a new, controversial English class called “U.S. Race Theory & the Problem of Whiteness.” The course is meant to empower students to examine the idea of “Whiteness” as a concept, rather than just skin color — an approach that’s been popular with researchers and academics since the late ’90s.
But not surprisingly, the name of the course has raised brows and gotten some negative knee jerk reactions — most notably from Fox News. The network’s Fox and Friends show ran a segment Friday titled “Trouble with Schools,” criticizing Arizona State University for attacking white people — even though assistant professor Lee Bebout, who teaches the class, identifies as white.
Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who has not seen a syllabus nor been able to reach Bebout for comment, referred to the curriculum as “quite unfair, and wrong, and pointed.”
Hasselbeck based her opinions mostly on complaints made by ASU student Lauren Clark, who objects to the required reading for students — which include “Playing in the Dark” by Toni Morrison, an acclaimed novelist who has won a Pulitzer Prize, a Nobel Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
The other books featured are “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” by Richard Delgado, “Everyday Language of White Racism” by Jane Hill, “Alchemy of Race & Rights” by Patricia Williams, and “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness” by George Lipsitz.
“All of these books have a disturbing trend and that’s pointing to white people as a root cause of social injustices for this country,” Clark told Hasselbeck during the segment. She also thinks that examining white privilege in a collegiate setting “causes more problems than solutions.”
Towards the end of the interview, Clark also insisted that there is a large problem of white people being marginalized and unfairly misrepresented at campuses all over the country.
In response to her claims, the ASU issued a statement Friday after the show, reading:
This course uses literature and rhetoric to look at how stories shape people’s understandings and experiences of race. It encourages students to examine how people talk about — or avoid talking about — race in the contemporary United States. This is an interdisciplinary course, so students will draw on history, literature, speeches and cultural changes — from scholarly texts to humor. The class is designed to empower students to confront the difficult and often thorny issues that surround us today and reach thoughtful conclusions rather than display gut reactions. A university is an academic environment where we discuss and debate a wide array of viewpoints.
Professor Bebout also recently told the The Arizona Republic that he’s been stressed out from receiving a flurry of hateful emails following the Fox News segment.
Tensions over how to teach students about race have been a reoccurring issue in Arizona. So far, the backlash has yet to impede this particular course from continuing.
Grio fam, do you think white students have good reason to be concerned about this class?