College assignments on whiteness raise eyebrows: 'Explain ... how whiteness is a construct of privilege'

A college dean is defending a series of assignments that requires students who are studying to become teachers to analyze “whiteness,” the College Fix reports.

According to the student-run website, students at Texas State University in San Marcos can opt to take an online course called “Public Education in a Multicultural Society.” Taught by Julia Meritt, the class’ purpose is to broaden students’ knowledge of public schooling “to include a consideration of culturally relevant teaching and learning for diverse students,” per its publicly available syllabus.

Texas State students are expected to complete three graded assignments that center on whiteness — at least one involves critiquing its relationship to privilege.

The College Fix obtained two screenshots of the assignments that seemingly confirm their existence. One prompt encourages students to “take the stance of an educator and explain to other educators how whiteness is a construct of privilege that must be examined carefully to facilitate equitable classroom dynamics.” It further asks students to consider several key terms, including “whiteness,” “race,” “privilege,” “prejudice” and “discrimination.”

Another assignment instructs students to define whiteness and provide examples of whiteness in the media.

“Be specific about how understanding whiteness, or not, might impact students and the classroom environment for good or not,” the assignment’s description reads.

In a statement to the website, Michael O’Malley, the dean of the university’s College of Education, argued that studying whiteness is critical to better understanding how racism plays a role in education.

“Currently, over half of the PK-12 population in Texas are students of color,” he explained. “Part of our work is to help future educators understand where and how to begin conversations about race by engaging in self-reflection. One of the best ways to get started is by asking students about their own experiences, normalize talking about race, and discovering and communicating unrealized preconceptions about race.”

According to Yale University’s Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, effective teaching should include racial awareness, “where recognition of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in the classroom informs teaching strategies.” Educators are encouraged to recognize their implicit biases, responsibly address racial tension when it occurs in the classroom and adopt “culturally responsive” pedagogy.