The Black Student Union at Salt Lake Community College held a workshop on Nov. 4 in support of critical race theory, or CRT.
The event, titled “Defending Academic Freedom and Critical Race Theory,” was open to the public and involved several speakers from SLCC. Speakers included SLCC Staff Association president Gina Alfred, psychology professor Dr. Cindy O. Fierros, criminal justice professor David Robles, criminal justice professor Dr. Anthony J. Nocella II, and Emily Thompson from the Center for eLearning.
The debate surrounding CRT has continued to gain momentum in Utah and across the country.
Earlier this year, the Utah State Legislature passed H.R. 901, which makes the claim that “some concepts contained in critical race theory degrade important societal values and, if introduced in classrooms, would harm students’ learning in the public education system.” Though the resolution would primarily apply to grades K-12 in public schools, Utah professors from colleges and universities are taking a stand in defense of educational freedom and CRT.
“Early critical race intellectual thought was grounded on the fact that the law was not in fact neutral or objective,” Fierros said. “Remember that at the core of the ban on critical race theory is the ban on anti-racist thinking and practice.”
The speakers outlined the early ideology surrounding CRT.
“We have a justice system that has condemned black people at higher rates than the general public.” Robles said.
Thompson question the intent behind H.R. 901 and the goal of banning CRT in Utah public schools.
“The original intent of this [ban on CRT] is to chill conversation, and instill fear, so that we’re not having these dialogues anymore,” Thompson said. “This notion of historical accuracy comes with a singular lens, one person, one idea that defines history and prohibits every other idea.”
Thompson challenged the language of the bill by asking the audience to consider how they define the word “appropriate” and how this word differs from person to person. She then asked to consider how “appropriate” might be abused by people in a place of power.
It seems that the initial issue that comes surrounding CRT is the lack of proper knowledge on the topic.
“You have people that have no idea what critical race theory is, yet they’re reading and believing what they’re reading as opposed to taking the time to check the facts,” Alfred said.
Nocella commented on the discussion surrounding academic freedom.
“We are required by our department, as well as our occupation and our field, to discuss issues around justice, and what deems one to be a crime today might not be deemed a crime tomorrow or yesterday,” Nocella said.
Nocella also read from a book he edited, “Neoliberalism and Academic Repression: The Fall of Academic Freedom in the Era of Trump.”
“Unfortunately, the most common targets of academic repression are the same individuals targeted by the school-to-prison-pipeline: People of Color, people with disabilities, LGBTTQQIA people, and people who are economically disadvantaged,” Nocella read aloud.
The conference closed with ideas on how one might get involved in this social justice movement.
“You can become an organizer, and an activist such as attend press conferences, vigils, protests,” Alfred said.
The list continued with other involvement ideas such as co-sponsoring, attending and sharing events, donating, presenting, and promoting and supporting one another.
Along with conducting this CRT conference, SLCC is trying to show support with a new program in place.
“At SLCC, we are attempting to get an ethnic studies program going,” Nocella said.