University of Oklahoma’s Anti-Racist Workshop training violates free speech, nonprofit says

A recent workshop put on by University of Oklahoma instructors about anti-racism raises red flags about the state of free expression and potential indoctrination inside the classrooms of the states flagship university, a nonprofit organization focused on freedom in education says.

The University of Oklahoma has been under fire recently due to their “Anti-Racist Rhetoric and Pedagogies” workshop, according to the nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which provides instructors with techniques on how to eradicate disfavored, different, and unpopular types of speech in their classrooms, though all of which is subjective and protected under the constitution. In a seminar entitled “Anti-Racist Rhetoric & Pedagogies,” three faculty members presented slides on “systemic racism” and addressed promoting anti-racist environments in the classroom.

They also spoke about how to “subvert white institutional defensiveness.” One of its presenters Kelli Pyron Alvarez asserted that students in a Principles of English Composition course are often “emboldened to be racist—like overtly racist,” she said. Alvarez went on to explain that teachers should forbid their students from making statements that may be hurtful to others including “derogatory remarks, critiques, and hate speech of any kind” as well as the use of “white supremacist ideas or sources,” unless, she clarified, they’re used by “antiracist crusaders.”

“If they use any of those things, if any of those come through in their writing or in their comments, I will call them out on it,” explained Alvarez. Earlier in the segment, Alvarez noted the reluctance of some instructors to use such hardline measures against student speech, yet she assured teachers the law is on their side. “One of the fears is that we’re going to get in trouble for this, right? Like we can’t tell students that they can’t say something in class. But we can! And let me tell you how,” she said, “The law is on the side of educators. In the classroom, free speech does not apply.”

“The Supreme Court has actually upheld that hate speech, derogatory speech, any of the -isms do not apply in the classroom because they do not foster a productive learning environment. And so, as instructors, we can tell our students: ‘No, you do not have the right to say that. Stop talking right now,'” she continued. Video of the workshop was made public Tuesday after it was obtained by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). FIRE denounced the workshop leaders for what they said was obvious censorship of students. “Professors cannot abuse their power to require students to personally adhere to a particular viewpoint or ideology,” said FIRE’s Daniel Burnett and Sabrina Conza.

“Given that this is a workshop that’s supposed to be teaching teachers how to guide classroom discussion and the fact that they’re urging them to guide students into what to argue and what is acceptable to argue starts to turn education into indoctrination,” said FIRE’s Executive Director Robert Shibley. “It’s disturbing as it shows a disregard for students’ rights in the classroom.” At one point in the seminar, instruction even pointed to reporting students if any such wrong speech comes through in a student’s writing or comments after being called out on it.


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