A new course titled "The Problem of Whiteness," to be taught at the University of Wisconsin at Madison has generated controversy after a Republican State legislator who chairs the assembly’s committee on colleges and universities has dubbed it “garbage” and called for it to be rolled back.
Created by assistant professor Damon Sajnani in the African Studies Department, the course will explore how white people "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," according to the description.
The reading list and the inspiration behind the creation of the course include several prominent scholars who have written on racial identities and relations, such as Frantz Fanon and W.E.B. Du Bois and some more recent and contemporary thinkers and political commentators such as Ta-Nehisi Coates and George Yancy.
Perhaps most significantly, the course is being offered in a university where demographic data suggests that “2 percent of the student population identifies as black and more than 75 percent are white,” according to the Washington Post.
But in a statement released by Dave Murphy of the Republican State Assembly last week, the lawmaker slammed the course for presuming that "white people are racist," and he mustered against taxpayers being "expected to pay for this garbage."
"I support academic freedom and free speech…Free speech also means the public has the right to be critical of their public university. The university’s handling of controversies like this appears to the public as a lack of balance in intellectual openness and diversity of political thought on campus." he told The Washington Post.
Murphy also questioned the political positions held by professor Sajnani on Twitter, that was attached along with the statement condemning the course.
“I don’t understand how a University that preaches political correctness can stand by a professor who openly condones violence against law enforcement and compares white voters to the KKK,” said Murphy.
Meanwhile, in response to Murphy's questions, the University of Wisconsin defended the elective class.
"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…The course is a challenge and response to racism of all kinds." the school said in a statement, according to The Washington Post.
Though it is unclear at this point as to how effective the course will be for the students undertaking it, the controversy around it is reminiscent of the famous "Blue eyes–Brown eyes" experiment designed by prominent educator and anti-discrimination activist Jane Elliot.
Having received mixed reactions and been described as both "Orwellian" and “Evil” by scholars and newspapers, the experiment’s legacy has been cemented by various studies on its efficacy that have been published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, among other places.
Here is a video one of the most iconic social experiment on race relations and discrimination conducted by Jane Elliott: