Jesuit University professors sign letter opposing bills targeting critical race theory

Sixty-four faculty members from St. Louis University, a Jesuit school in Missouri, have signed a letter to the state House of Representatives opposing legislation to ban teachings about race, gender gender, class and sexuality in public schools.

The letter opposes bills like HB 1474 and H.B. 1995which would respectively ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory and give parents two weeks notice of when”controversial“Subjects like race and ethnicity will be taught.

The letter was edited by historian Charles Parker and was signed by professors from various departments at St. Louis University, including political science, philosophy, English and women’s studies. Faculty members say these bills “reduce complex historical topics to superficial, crystallized slogans like the implementation of critical race theory and the 1619 Project, and impose vague limits on proper historical inquiry. “, according to the letter.

The letter adds that it is imperative that young people are in academic spaces that allow them to learn more about “the pervasive influence of the slave trade, slavery, the Civil War, Jim Crow laws , segregation, lynching, redlining and other forms”. of racial oppression.”

Missouri is one of the latest states to attempt to pass legislation to limit what is taught in American classrooms. Similar policies have been proposed in Wyoming, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Florida, including ending funding for university gender studies departments and banning books that discuss sexuality and ethnicity. In 2021, more than 100 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in 33 states, and more than 40 states have introduced bills or measures to ban critical race theory.

If passed, the Missouri legislation would limit how history is taught in the classroom and allow parents to push back the curriculum and even sue the school on the subjects taught. Both bills use the language of “parental consent” or a “parent’s bill of rights.”

Tobias Winright, a professor of health care and theological ethics and one of the signatories, told NCR he felt compelled to participate in this action “as a Catholic theologian because truth and justice are essential values ​​in our moral tradition”.

“Self-examination and confession are important practices. Selective history only exacerbates self-deception and denial, and it corrodes the common good for all. Finally, one of my daughters attends high school public here in St. Louis, so I signed on as a concerned parent,” he added.

Other signatories included faculty members Ellen Carnaghan, Rubén Rosario Rodríguez, Devita Stallings, the Jesuit Father. Michael Barber and Silvana Siddali.

JS Onésimo Sándoval, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology, believes these legislative efforts are happening because the United States is changing demographically, which impacts every aspect of our society. For many, this shift leads to a kind of “demographic anxiety,” Sándoval told NCR.

Sándoval said one of her goals as an educator is to prepare students for these demographic shifts, helping young women and men shape and constructively advocate for their own ideas once they leave school. ‘university.

“One of the privileges of a university education is the ability to articulate ideas in public,” he said. “And so if we say those are the only topics you can discuss, then people are going to censor themselves.”

He believes that Catholic universities must ask themselves what it means to be critical intellectual spaces preparing young women and men committed to the responsibility of the common good. If such policies are implemented, students will be the ones who will ultimately suffer, he said.

“I’m afraid we’ll lose if the government comes in and says these are things you can and can’t discuss,” Sándoval told NCR.

Aric Hamilton, a junior major in history, American studies, and education, is the new student government president at St. Louis University. As part of his work on student government, he deals with issues of diversity and inclusion. He told NCR he appreciates that professors at his university signed the letter condemning the legislation against critical race theory and queer studies.

“It aligns with our mission, when we talk about a higher purpose and a greater good, and when we talk about the principles of higher education – freedom of expression and intellectual curiosity,” Hamilton said.

He added that at the state and university level, there is a battle for “the freedom and flexibility to teach a critical, thoughtful, and open perspective on county and world history.”

The letter to Missouri lawmakers emphasized the need to teach students to “have the courage to carefully examine our past, speak the truth about it, and move forward with greater justice and freedom for all.” our citizens and peoples of the world”.

Joya Uraizee, an English professor at St. Louis University, told NCR, “Students need to be given all the tools that allow them to succeed, and preventing them from learning aspects of our own history is not not a recipe for success.”

She said attempts to ban historical education are not unique to the United States. Uraizee has seen similar efforts throughout her research, which focuses on genocide, postcolonial literature, trauma, and African refugee narratives.

“Your job as an instructor is to make students aware that there are other points of view,” she added.

For Hamilton, who hopes to work at the intersection of education and history after graduation, Jesuit universities have a role to play in opposing discriminatory legislation.

“The Jesuits would tell us to look into these issues and use the principles of dialogue and the spiritual exercises that are essential to the tradition that we have maintained,” he explained.

Jesuit universities should “not shy away from controversy but lean into it and maintain the social cause that we are so passionate about, which is to serve those on the margins of our society,” he added.

Sharon D. Cole