President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month that banned promotions of “divisive concepts” in all federal agencies, including federal contractors and the armed services. This order came after a memo from the Office of Management and Budget outright attacked any ideas associated with critical race theory.
CRT, as defined by leading scholars in the field, is “a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism and power.”
In light of ongoing racial injustice and increase of white supremacist violence, critical race theory needs to be closely examined and protected. Just this past week, Trump released a proclamation calling for the celebration of Columbus Day amidst national movements aimed at reclaiming this holiday as Indigenous Peoples Day. The fight against CRT isn’t new, but it is now time IU steps up to uphold a field of study aimed at combating racism and erasure of marginalized groups’ experiences.
CRT studies intersectional issues and challenges prevailing ideologies through the interdisciplinary use of storytelling and social justice.
Despite being a relatively new academic field, CRT has been widely influential in developing diversity programs and guiding research on race and ethnicity. This has led to pushback from scholars, politicians and professionals who believe CRT is an assault on U.S. history and is anti-American propaganda.
The executive order conflates anti-bias training with all efforts to build an inclusive and equitable society that recognizes the historic and ongoing struggle of marginalized groups. It somehow concludes these needed efforts are a “destructive ideology grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history.”
“It’s not surprising we’re witnessing this [the attacks on CRT] in the wake of George Floyd,” said Andrés Guzmán, an IU professor of Spanish and Portuguese, who does research on the intersection between cultural studies, border studies and political theory.
The murders of Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers this year has sparked dissent and protests across the country. Consequently, CRT has taken a front-row seat in leading discussions on combating racism and dismantling systems of oppression.
These egregious — but not new — acts of violence have shed a national light on our country’s prevalent racism. From 1619, when the first enslaved Africans were brought to America, to 1787, when the Constitution was written by slaveholders and colonizers, racism pervades every aspect of United States history.
While the Trump administration may be waging the latest battle, the war to banish CRT and ethnic study from university and public school curriculum has been fought for decades. It’s rooted in conservative, white-supremacist beliefs, viewing universities as liberal strongholds corrupting the impressionable minds of the next generation.
One particularly vicious expression of this xenophobia was the termination of the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American Studies program in 2010. The program was established in 1997 to reduce the achievement gap and lower dropout rates of Latinx students. As the data and anecdotal evidence suggest, it accomplished that and much more, providing a home to students of color. It challenged stereotypes and expressed better ways to deal with the discrimination encountered head-on every day.
But Arizona lawmakers didn’t see it that way. In 2010, they passed HB-2281, effectively banning all ethnic study education in the state’s public school system.
CRT holds a place at IU in areas such as the Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society, the Cultural Studies Program, the department of African American and African Diaspora Studies and the Race, Migration and Indigeneity Programs through the College of Arts and Sciences.
IU needs to protect programs and research guided by critical race theory in order to keep their mission statement of striving to “achieve full diversity, and to maintain friendly, collegial and humane environments, with a strong commitment to academic freedom.”
However, the budget allocations for the African American and African Diaspora Studies have decreased since 2009. IU cannot claim to protect academic freedom if they are willing to sacrifice the very departments that work to maintain it.
Unfortunately, IU has a history of mishandling racism throughout campus. From the racist comments by professors to bias incidents and attempted lynchings, we need to reckon with the racism that surrounds IU and the racism that occurs within it.
There are several schools that have diversity, equity and inclusion offices that offer diversity and bias training. However, campus-wide there is no mandatory training for students, faculty and staff.
By allocating more funding and resources to programs that promote CRT, requiring mandatory diversity training and ending budget cuts to ethnic studies programs IU can take the first step in combating racism in a meaningful and effective way.
It is clear that Trump will continue to push against anti-racist initiatives and enable white supremacy. As a research institution IU must defend and support critical race theory in the fight against racism, erasure and oppression.
Rebekah Amaya (she/her) is a junior studying law and public policy and critical race and ethnic study. She wants to go into immigration reform advocacy.
JP Brenner (he/him) is a senior studying political science and geography. He loves spending time outdoors, away from his phone, and is an avid reader.
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