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The problem with Arizona State University’s ‘problem of whiteness’ course
January 28, 2015  //  By:   //  Op-Ed  //  No Comment

by the VNN Team

Eighteen students at Arizona State University are enrolled in a new English class, “U.S. Race Theory & the Problem of Whiteness” and it’s a course that’s stirred controversy beyond the boundaries of the ASU campus.

The course is being taught by ASU assistant professor Lee Bebout, who is white.

A course description on the university’s website reads: “Major critical schools of recent decades — postcolonialist, psychoanalytic, deconstructionist, feminist, new historicist.”  The two-hour and 45 minute course is a lecture class and worth three units.

Texts required for the course include “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness,” “Critical Race Theory,” “Everyday Language of White Racism,” “Playing in the Dark” and “The Alchemy of Race and Rights,” according to ASU’s website.

One of the most prominent quotes circulating the media is from James Malone, a junior economics major as told to Campus Reform.

“I think it shows the significant double standard of higher education institutions. They would never allow a class talking about the problem of ‘blackness.’ And if they did, there would be an uproar about it. But you can certainly harass people for their apparent whiteness,” Malone is quoted as saying.

His statement rings true. Nary a college that would allow a class discussion about the problem of ‘blackness’ let alone an entire semester of discussion.

Tensions over how to teach race have erupted repeatedly in Arizona in recent years. In 2010, the state legislature passed a law to restrict the teaching of ethnic studies, arguing that a Mexican-American studies curriculum in the Tucson public schools had bred resentment against whites.

A state-commissioned audit published in 2011 said the Tucson courses fostered critical thinking and recommended expanding them, while independent researchers found the courses raised student achievement on state tests and boosted the graduation rate in the majority-Latino school district.

Earlier this month, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the matter.

While the course has stirred the pot, there’s been no reports of protests, lootings, or killings. Caucasian’s have not taken to the streets, nor has Al Sharpton called for action. Either has President Obama.

In defense of the course, ASU issued the following statement:

“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.”

In light of recent racial tensions, it may have behooved ASU to hold off on offering the course for a while. After all, it’s not as if the university doesn’t have a plethora of other English courses available to students.

Image: ASU

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