Wisconsin Student Newspaper Defends Controversial ‘Problem of Whiteness’ Class

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By Andrew Stiles | 1:32 pm, January 3, 2017

The University of Wisconsin has come under fire for offering a spring semester course of the “Problem of Whiteness.” Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin have even threatened to cut off public funding if the university does not cancel the controversial offering, which purports to teach students “how whiteness is socially constructed and experienced in order to help dismantle white supremacy.”

Now the university’s student newspaper, The Daily Cardinal, is firing back at lawmakers. In an editorial published Monday, the paper’s editorial board wrote that it “ununequivocally supports” the course, calling it “essential to addressing campus climate issues,” and “necessary to confronting racism in our majority-white state and campus.”

The Cardinal editors applauded the University of Wisconsin for its “strong defense of academic freedom,” and chided state lawmakers for challenging the existence of a “legitimate” academic endeavor. “The course description states its goal of dismantling white supremacy,” the editors wrote. “Why would anyone be against that?”

The editorial includes quotes from Lauryn Siebold, described as a mixed-race student who plans to take the “Problem of Whiteness” class in the spring. Siebold described the lawmaker threats to withhold university funding as “ridiculous,” and complained that “the government is trying really hard to control your life.”

The board dismissed concerns over the content of the class, arguing that studying the “problem of whiteness” is not the same as teaching students about “the problem with white people,” and should not be construed as an attack on white people.

“The title ‘The Problem of Whiteness’ is not equivalent to ‘the problem with white people,'” the editorial concludes. “Rather, it reflects the notion that achieving racial equity and equality necessitates an understanding of whiteness, and the privileges that come with it.”

The editorial does not discuss the controversy surrounding Damon Sajnani, the professor slated to teach the course. Lawmakers challenging the class recently uncovered a series of Tweets from Sajnani they described as “vile” attacks on police officers.

A number of lawmakers have called on the university to fire Sajnani. The university responded by expressing support for “the First Amendment rights of its students, faculty and staff, including their use of social media tools to express their views on race, politics or other topics, in their capacity as a private citizen.”