Standing up for Professors

Historians in the News
tags: teaching history, media circuses, outrage machine

Washington and Lee University in Virginia continues to face criticism from some corners over discussions about changing its name, along with certain campus traditions, to those that don’t honor Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

In the midst of these rebukes, the university recently offered unequivocal support for two professors targeted for their work and views.

In the first case, Breitbart posted a story about a course to be offered this semester called How to Overthrow the State? It’s a titillating tile, but the course itself one of many first-year writing seminar options and doesn’t exactly operate as Anarchy 101.

Students write at least three revised essays and develop skills in active reading, argumentation, presenting evidence and critical analysis.

“This course places each student at the head of a popular revolutionary movement aiming to overthrow a sitting government and forge a better society,” reads the course description. “How will you attain power? How will you communicate with the masses? How do you plan on improving the lives of the people? How will you deal with the past?”

The actual material with which they’re engaging concerns Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Mohandas Gandhi and other revolutionaries from the across the Global South -- as well as the Founding Fathers. Students read the Declaration of Independence.

Other first-year writing seminars offered have themes designed to pique the interest of students who need to learn how to think and express themselves at the college level, including monsters, memoir and identity, animals, mysteries and puzzles, Queen Elizabeth I, life’s “big questions,” nature, and Black athletes and activism.

The story was picked up by outlets including The Federalist and Fox News. Soon the instructor, Matt Gildner, a visiting assistant professor of history, started to receive hateful voice mails and emails containing threats from some who described themselves as “patriots.” So did another professor, who had nothing to do with the course: Brandon Hasbrouck, assistant professor of law.

Breitbart didn’t mention Gildner, who is white, by name. It did mention Hasbrouck, who is Black, and his July op-ed for The Washington Post arguing that Washington and Lee should also consider dropping "Washington" from its name, as both George Washington and Lee perpetrated “racial terror.”

“Yes, Washington was the country’s first president after leading the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. But Washington enslaved more than 300 Black people,” Hasbrouck wrote. “He ordered one whipped for walking on his lawn.”

Hasbrouck publicly shared some of the harassment he received upon initial publication of the piece, including an email that used a racial slur to refer to Black people saying they were “better off as slaves.”

“To be Black and to have an opinion,” Hasbrouck tweeted at the time.

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed

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