‘White Racism’ Course Sparks Controversy at Florida University

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Florida Gulf Coast University
So far, 50 students have enrolled for the “White Racism” course. (Image courtesy of FGCU.edu)

A provocative new course exploring race and racism at Florida Gulf Coast University has some students up in arms, mostly over its name.

Starting in January, assistant professor of sociology Dr. Ted Thornhill will teach a new class at the university titled “White Racism,” the Fort Meyers News-Press reported. The course is set to discuss everything from ways to challenge white supremacy to the ideas, policies and practices in the U.S. that have condoned “…white racial domination over those racialized as non-white.”

So far, 50 students have signed up to take the class, but not everyone is happy about it. At least one flier about the course has been vandalized, according to the newspaper.

“I would have preferred a name more like ‘Systemic Racism,’ ” FGCU College Republicans treasurer Alex Pilkington told the News-Press. ” … Because giving it ‘White Racism’ as the name of the class, I feel like it’s intentional that you are trying to make white people look at the class a certain way.”

The 22-year-old accounting major said he spoke with Thornhill about the course’s name after a recent panel discussion on campus about racism. While he felt the professor did a good job justifying the name, Pilkington still believes it could be problematic.

Other students like sociology major Aimee Weigt, 22, took no issue with the name of the course and said she’s looking forward to seeing what’s in store. She’s one of the 50 students who signed up for the course, and this isn’t her first go-round with Thornhill at the helm.

“Not everybody is a fan of it,” Weigt said. “But I know because Thornhill is so articulate when it comes to developing classes that it’s going to be super well done, and especially because it’s a topic that he is very comfortable teaching.”

Thornhill, who’s been teaching courses on race, white supremacy and racial inequality for almost a decade, said one of the reasons he chose to lead a “White Racism” class at FGCU was because so many students kept asking for classes on race and a racism. In addition to tackling the ideologies of white supremacy, he said the class will also feature a discussion on the social construct of race and white privilege.

“I think the course can be construed to be a provocative title,” Thornhill told the News-Press, adding that the negative response to it proves just how much it’s needed. “I think that students will be excited to learn about this. The description is very clear and direct and so they can see what we are going to talk about.”

This isn’t the first time such a class has sparked controversy at an institution of higher learning. A similar “White Racism” course has been taught at the University of Connecticut since the mid-1990’s, and the sociology professor who teaches it there said it caused backlash when it was first introduced, too.

“The attacks on me were very, very vicious and very, very personal,” said UConn professor Noël Cazenave. “I was called, ‘the white racism professor,’ and what have you. And so there was really no sophisticated arguments as to why the course shouldn’t be taught.”

Universities outside the U.S., including the University of Oxford’s Magdalen College in the UK, have also considered implementing mandatory courses on racism and cultural appropriation for incoming students. According to The Telegraph, the classes are already offered at a number of UK colleges but on an optional basis.

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