Police Guard Students At Controversial White Racism Class

Written by Dana Sanchez

The majority of students were people of color who signed up for a controversial university course entitled “White Racism” that started this week at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.

Campus police were posted Tuesday outside assistant Prof. Ted Thornhill’s sociology class after he was bombarded with harassing emails and messages against the course — most of them negative and some containing racial slurs and hate speech, CNN reported.

Thornhill, who is African American, told CNN he named the course “White Racism” because he believes it accurately signifies the material.

A course description says the class will “interrogate the concept of race; examine the racist ideologies, laws, policies, and practices that have operated for hundreds of years to maintain white racial domination over those racialized as non-white; and discuss ways to challenge white racism and white supremacy toward promoting an anti-racist society where whiteness is not tied to greater life chances.”

Thornhill said the course is about a search for truth:

“My White Racism course is not anti-white; it is anti-white racism,” he said in a written statement sent to CNN and other news outlets. “Clearly, not all white people are racists; some are even anti-racist. However, all people racialized as white derive, in some measure, material and psychological benefits by virtue of being racialized as white.”

All 50 spots in the class filled fast and there was a waitlist. The course has been controversial since it was announced in November, local TV station Wink News reported.

“I understood that many white Americans, and some people of color, would find it provocative,” Thornhill said.

One of the people who signed up for the class — Bryan Oliva-Infante — told CNN he noticed extra university police officers nearby when he went to class on Tuesday.

“Although I was a bit nervous, sitting through the class felt like a sigh of relief,” said Oliva-Infante, who is president of FGCU College Democrats and FGCU for Dreamers. “For the first time, ever, at FGCU, I was in an academic setting where the majority of people were students of color … It was beautiful to see that many of my classmates had cultural backgrounds similar to mine. One thing we all have in common was that our communities all suffer from white racism.”

Thornhill showed CNN 46 pages of emails he has received about the course. The spitefulness in some of them surprised him, he said:

A few FGCU parents threatened to pull their tuition. Some writers asked why the course was called “White Racism” when racism exists among all ethnic groups. Others said Thornhill should devote class time to black racism … Asked about the outcry, Thornhill told CNN, “It is not my job to provide white people with comfort.”

Thornhill’s experience is not unusual, CNN reported. In 2017 more than 100 incidents of harassment targeting professors were reported on college campuses around the country, according to the American Association of University Professors.

Controversial subject matter taught in classrooms has raised safety concerns on other campuses.

This also is not the first time a course called “White Racism” has caused an uproar. In 1995 Noel Cazenave, a sociology professor at the University of Connecticut, began teaching a class with the same name and subject matter. The outcry over the course was so intense, Cazenave told CNN, that the school tabled it twice amid widespread publicity. “It went global,” he said. When it was announced that the class would finally be taught, Cazenave described seeing the press outside his window, lining up “like I discovered the cure to cancer.”

Florida Gulf Coast University has had other incidents on campus that make this course necessary, senior Brittani Anderson told WINK.

“I think it’s important we talk about these issues, especially because we’ve had these issues on campus,” said Anderson said. “I think the name is a little controversial, but take the class and see what it’s about before you judge it.”

In October 2016, FGCU students organized the largest protest in the school’s history. They were upset about hate speech found on campus that the school didn’t notify students about, the local News Press reported.

In March 2017, nine FGCU faculty members wrote a letter to university President Wilson Bradshaw saying they are concerned that the university is not adequately responding to racial slurs and white supremacy group fliers that are being found at the school.

“There are many of us faculty, staff, and students who are willing to do the hard work associated with creating a diverse and inclusive campus,” the letter states. “But, we need your leadership to engage effectively.”

Bradshaw responded in a letter to the campus that he won’t make it a practice to respond every time there is a “deplorable biased-based incident.”

For college professors, bad publicity can be good in promoting their name, ideas, and message, according to a report in TheBestSchools.org. “The stock of most professors goes up when they are censored and vilified,” the report said. TBS’s list of The 10 Most Controversial College Professors includes former professor of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University — Ben Carson.


White Racism
Prof. Ted Thornhill teaches a “White racism” class at Florida Gulf Coast University. Photo: CNN













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About Dana Sanchez

Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on Moguldom.com for Nubail Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.