EDUCATION

New York public college offering course called 'Abolition of Whiteness'

A public college in New York City is offering an undergraduate class called the "Abolition of Whiteness," adding to what critics say is a growing number of courses aimed at the study of "whiteness" at colleges and universities around the country.

Hunter College -- a public school in Manhattan that is part of the City University of New York -- is advertising a course in its Fall 2017 catalog that examines "how whiteness – and/or white supremacy and violence – is intertwined with conceptions of gender, race, sexuality, class, body ability, nationality, and age."

The "Abolition of Whiteness," taught by Prof. Jennifer Gaboury, can be taken as either a women and gender studies course or a political science class, according to the school's online course catalog.

The class has drawn ire on conservative media sites, such as the Daily Caller and Campus Reform, where some readers expressed outrage over the course's title. Critics say the course is part of a rise in white studies classes in higher education, which they claim are "divisive" and detrimental to student learning.

"These courses really pound a wedge between people based on race," said Arizona State Rep. Bob Thorpe, who had tried to ban a course at Arizona State University called "Whiteness and Race Theory."

"They're not bringing people together and creating unity on the college campus," Thorpe told Fox News.

"The taxpayers are funding these kinds of courses as well," said Thorpe, claiming, "You're not really seeing these classes in private institutions."

But educators and those who work in academia say such classes are being distorted and critics are failing to recognize a fundamental purpose of higher education: to make students think for themselves.

"Academic freedom protects the right for people to teach things that some might consider divisive," said Hans-Joerg Tiede of the American Association of University Professors.

"A provocative title may encourage students to really think about the issues," said Tiede, who likened criticizing course titles -- like the one at Hunter College -- to judging a book by its cover.

These courses really pound a wedge between people based on race.

- Arizona State Rep. Bob Thorpe

Georgetown University, for instance, a private Catholic school, offers a popular theology course called, "The Problem of God," which "grapples with deep and difficult questions about life, meaning purpose and fulfillment," according to Georgetown's website.

"It explores the notion of God and fundamental aspects of belief in such a being," says the school, where theology courses are a requirement for undergraduate students.

"I am sure there may be people who look at Georgetown’s course catalog and consider the class title to be offensive," noted Tiede.

Tiede said he was not familiar with the "Abolition of Whiteness" course being offered at Hunter College but said the class was likely reviewed by a committee of people before it was approved. Neither the school nor the professor was immediately available for comment when contacted by Fox News. A syllabus for the course was not available online. 

"A course like this could investigate a number of issues regarding race relations in the United States," Tiede said.

"Unfortunately, you have a far-right, outrage machine out there that is trolling the internet for titles that may upset some readers and to use that to sort of stoke resentment against higher education," added Tiede. "I’m not questioning the right to do that – I just don't think it’s productive or promotes the rights that higher education seeks to encourage."

Thorpe, meanwhile, disagrees, saying such "white studies" courses only reinforce prejudices -- and may in some cases spur violence -- against a particular group.

Thorpe and other critics note that such "polarizing" courses on white studies are on the rise across higher education institutions around the country.

A class at Ohio State University, titled "Crossing Identity Boundaries," teaches students how to detect microaggressions and white privilege. And the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a course called, "The Problem of Whiteness," which has been roundly criticized by state Republican lawmakers.

"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,” Rep. Dave Murphy, chairman of the Wisconsin Assembly’s Committee on Colleges and Universities, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a December 2016 interview.

"If you had a class that said 'the problem with women' or 'the problem with blacks' it would never happen," Thorpe said of the course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"I think of Martin Luther King's famous words about how we should judge a person based on the content of their character and not the color of their skin," said Thorpe. "You would think that this would be a fairly settled issue but it is not."