Society

Arizona Lawmaker Aims To Ban Classes On White Privilege

| by Robert Fowler

An Arizona lawmaker has introduced legislation that would withhold a portion of state funding to public colleges and universities that teach classes on the topic of white privilege. The lawmaker has deemed the topic unjustifiably divisive while critics of his bill assert that it punishes academic freedom and stifles dialogue about race.

Republican state Rep. Bob Thorpe of Arizona, the chairman of the Arizona House higher education committee, has introduced legislation that would expand an existing state ban on teaching ethnic studies in charter schools to include universities and community colleges, AZ Central reports.

Dubbed House Bill 2120, the legislation would reduce state funding for schools in violation of the ban by 10 percent.

"The bill is very simple: Taxpayers should not have to be paying for classes that discriminate," Thorpe said. "This is drawing a line in the sand that says, 'Higher education: If you want to have classes that teach resentment between individuals, you should have to fund them.'"

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HB 2120 has been co-sponsored by Republican state Sen. Steve Smith of Arizona, who asserts that teaching classes on concepts like white privilege promotes "a very perverse agenda … They claim that they want justice and equality, while at the exact same time, they're preaching inequality."

Democratic state Sen. Martin Quezada of Arizona has blasted the bill, describing it as "a disgusting slap in the face to justice, culture, pursuit of a higher level of thinking and improvement of society as a whole."

If passed, Thorpe's legislation could be used to prohibit classes on that teach subjects beyond just white privilege. The language of HB 2120 calls for a ban on any classes or activities deemed to promote "division, resentment or social justice toward a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class or other class."

In Thorpe's view, the legislation is necessary because "racially insensitive agendas are occurring in higher education."

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"The way these classes are set up is that people are judged not because of the content of their character."

HB 2120 has drawn condemnation from Arizona educators and students as well as Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King.

"It appears that Bob Thorpe actually has a bigger problem with students and staff discussing white privilege than he does with the unfair privilege itself," King wrote in an op-ed for New York Daily News.

"Conservatives like Thorpe are fully willing to be control freaks when it protects white supremacy and cultural hegemony -- then they say stand on the principles of local control when it benefits them," King added.

Arizona State University associate professor Lee Bebout, who drew controversy for teaching in 2015 for teaching a course dubbed "U.S. Race Theory and the Problem of Whiteness," asserts that lawmakers are inserting themselves into a field where they lack the expertise to make judgments.

"My belief is that curriculum should be designed by experts in a field, not by lawmakers," Bebout said. "That's the whole reason why we have academic freedom in the U.S."

Felina Rodriguez, an ASU student, deemed the legislation unfair to her fellow classmates.

"If it's controversial to you, don't take the class, but don't penalize others for trying to educate ourselves," Rodriguez said.

Sources: AZ Central (2), The Daily CallerNew York Daily News / Photo credit: Mer chau/Flickr

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