The Slatest

Wisconsin Republicans Want “Problem of Whiteness” Class Cancelled, Professor Fired

An outside view of Bascom Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin on October 12, 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

Republican legislators in Wisconsin are threatening to reject the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s requests for additional state funding unless an elective course they find offensive is cancelled and its professor is fired.

Rep. Dave Murphy, chairman of the Wisconsin Assembly’s Committee on Colleges and Universities, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he believes the course “The Problem of Whiteness” contributes to “the polarization of races in our state.”

“I am extremely concerned that UW-Madison finds it appropriate to teach a course called, ‘The Problem of Whiteness,’ with the premise that white people are racist,” he said in a statement. “Even more troubling, the course is taught by a self-described “international radical” professor whose views are a slap in the face to the taxpayers who are expected to pay for this garbage.”

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The statement includes a selection of tweets made by the course’s professor Damon Sajnani. In one made on the night of July’s Dallas shooting—during which five officers were ultimately killed and nine injured—Sajnani captioned a photo of a CNN chyron reporting the casualties: “Is the uprising finally starting? Is this style of protest gonna go viral?”

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Sajnani’s course description describes “The Problem of Whiteness” as a chance to “understand how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy”:

Our class will break away from the standard US-centric frame, and consider how whiteness is constructed globally, with particular attention to paradigmatic cases like South Africa. Whereas disciplines such as Latino/a, African, and Asian American studies focus on race as experienced by non-whites, whiteness studies considers how race is experienced by white people. It explores how they consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism and how this not only devastates communities of color but also perpetuates the oppression of most white folks along the lines of class and gender. In this class, we will ask what an ethical white identity entails, what it means to be #woke, and consider the journal Race Traitor’s motto, “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.”

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The university has defended the course in a statement. “We believe this course, which is one of thousands offered at our university, will benefit students who are interested in developing a deeper understanding of race issues,” it reads. “The course is a challenge and response to racism of all kinds.” Sajnani’s tweets were addressed in another statement by University of Wisconsin-Madison provost Sarah Mangelsdorf in which she defended the “First Amendment rights of its students, faculty and staff” to express themselves on social media and elsewhere while stating that incitations of violence are not in keeping with the university’s values.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that Rep. Murphy has directed his staff to inspect other course offerings to see if “they’re legit.” The Journal Sentinel also reports that the first legislator to call for the cancellation of Sajnani’s course was Sen. Steve Nass of the Senate’s Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges. In July, Nass similarly threatened funding for the university over a lecturer’s assigning of an essay on gay sexuality.

In January, Nass issued a statement criticizing comments made by University of Wisconsin system president Ray Cross about the university’s efforts to do more for minority students and staff.

“President Cross needs to stop wasting time appeasing the political correctness crowd demanding safe-spaces, safe-words, universal apologies for hurt feelings, and speech/thought police,” Nass said.

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