“The Problem with Whiteness” is not that every single white person is racist. “The Problem with Whiteness” is that in 2017, there are still people who are afraid their white privilege will be taken away by a professor teaching a class on what it means to be white.
This week, University of Wisconsin professor Damon Sajnani’s controversial class titled “The Problem of Whiteness” began. The course is meant to show students what white privilege means for people of color in today’s society.
“Critical Whiteness Studies aims to understand how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy,” the course description reads. “One of the main goals in the class will be to understand race and identity and how it impacts lives on a daily basis.”
But before students had even purchased their textbooks for Sajnani’s class, the course’s critics, including several Wisconsin legislators, were screaming their disapproval.
Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, is perhaps the loudest of these critics. In his condemnation of “The Problem of Whiteness,” Murphy targeted Sajnani personally, arguing that his personal beliefs are offensive to the taxpayers funding his class.
Though he claims he supports academic freedom and freedom of speech, Murphy maintains the hidden goal of Sajnani’s course is to paint all whites as racist, and therefore, the university is obligated to discontinue the course.
“UW must discontinue this class,” Murphy said in a statement. “If UW stands with this professor, I don’t know how the university can expect the taxpayers to stand with UW.”
Another conservative complaint regarding the class is it hinders “intellectual diversity” on the UW campus. While Sajnani’s course is a prime example of a class that challenges students to discuss a topic from a viewpoint other than the mainstream one, it somehow fails to be diverse, or conservative enough, to satisfy the Republican-led Wisconsin Legislature.
Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and longtime critic of the UW System, said “The Problem of Whiteness” is yet another indication that UW is run by a liberal oligarchy who use the courses taught at the university to push their leftist agenda.
“They’re preaching, not teaching [at UW],” Mike Mikalsen, spokesman for Nass, said.
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In a time when the president-elect trounces on minorities, and hate crimes against people of color continue to spike, classes like “The Problem of Whiteness” are exactly what this country needs.
Following eight years of conservative backlash against an black president and the election of a blatantly racist man, a class examining white privilege has never been more relevant than now. Until the white majority realizes their privilege hurts more than it helps, classes such as these are necessary in educational institutions nationwide.
This class, and others like it, will help students understand how one’s race impacts daily life. The class should not be dismissed simply because it goes against the delusional mainstream thought that racism has been fixed, and that the white majority is no longer responsible, in part, for the degradation of minorities.
“Ideas should be dismissed only after research and debate prove them inadequate, rather than being dismissed out of hand without debate because they challenge perceived wisdom or offend current beliefs,” UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank wrote on her blog.
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Additionally, lawmakers have no place dictating what courses a university is allowed to run. Universities are meant to be institutions where students broaden their intellectual horizons, not places that push a certain agenda by censoring their professors.
The call for intellectual diversity is equatable to a call for a more conservative curriculum at a public institution, not a call for true diversity. True diversity would mean classes such as Sajnani’s being celebrated instead of publicly dragged through the dirt.
Sajnani has an opportunity this semester to engage in a meaningful dialogue with his students about the significance of whiteness in today’s society, and frankly, it’s a conversation we could all benefit from.
Aly Niehans ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in international studies and intending to journalism.