U of C students agitate for a Department of Critical Race Studies

March 16, 2021 • 2:45 pm

As we used to say in college in the Sixties, “The students are revolutionizing.” In this case, here at the University of Chicago they are asking for—no, demanding—a department of critical race studies. Here’s the view of one student (shared by many) in this week’s Chicago Maroon (click on screenshot):

A quote:

The University of Chicago is renowned for its support of intellectual curiosity, and yet, somehow, the school lacks a department devoted to critical race and ethnic studies (CRES)—a department that would further investigate race relations during such a pivotal moment in history. In the summer of 2020, a #MoreThanDiversity campaign—launched by faculty affiliates of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture (CSRPC)—demanded that UChicago’s provost, Ka Yee C. Lee, set aside funds for a department dedicated to CRES. In December, Ka Yee C. Lee allocated funding to #MoreThanDiversity so that they could propose a CRES department, but allocating funds for a proposal does not mean that it will be approved or implemented to the extent that it should be. Students of color cannot feel at ease when campus administration tiptoes around the need for a department that would prioritize critical questions regarding race and ethnicity, which has been expressed by students and faculty numerous times. Despite the fact that establishing a critical race and ethnic studies department is crucial to conveying their supposed commitment to diversity and inclusion, the administration has unsurprisingly delayed conversations surrounding its implementation, especially considering UChicago’s role in upholding white supremacy.

You might check out that last link about how we are, even now, upholding white supremacy. When a business-school professor invited Steve Bannon here a while back (he didn’t come), that was upholding white supremacy! We also upheld white supremacy when, in 1856, Stephen Douglas donated 10 acres of land to start the University. No matter that those acres are not part of the present University, nor that President Zimmer ordered the removal of two plaques honoring Douglas, saying this:

“Douglas does not deserve to be honored on our campus” because “Douglas profited from his wife’s ownership of a Mississippi plantation where Black people were enslaved.”

No, no, none of that counts. We’re apparently still upholding white supremacy, therefore we need a department of critical race and ethnic studies.

The article above adds this:

UChicago’s administration needs to reevaluate their commitment to diversity and inclusion, especially considering that their response to #MoreThanDiversity’s demands has merely been to fund a department proposal, refusing to fund the creation of the department itself or acknowledge its importance in dismantling racist systems. Critical race and ethnic studies serve to transform the conventional mode of thought surrounding race and give room for self-reflexive comprehension, so when the University creates obstacles for #MoreThanDiversity, they are also creating another obstacle for students to engage in transformative studies.

“Transformative studies.” You know what that means: it means ensuring that students who take this department’s courses will be turned into epigones of Critical Race theory. It means ensuring that, in the area of ethnic studies, only one point of view will be tolerated, taught, and accepted. You’d be a fool to believe otherwise.

Such a department would, of course, be an organ of propaganda. The University has rightly dragged its heels on this one, and refuses the other student demand to eliminate the campus police. But if such a department were founded here, it would mark the beginning of the end of our reputation for free and open inquiry—the features that still make the University of Chicago unique among American colleges.

27 thoughts on “U of C students agitate for a Department of Critical Race Studies

  1. I think that, whenever a proposal such as this is presented as a demand, the only proper (polite) response is “Duly noted.” Less polite alternatives are available, and certainly would be deserved, given the terrible rudeness of such “demands”, but it’s probably useful to keep the civility high ground to the degree that it’s possible without severe nausea.

  2. All of this stuff appears consistent with the approach of drawing a conclusion first – all white people who ever existed succeeded only by suppressing other races – and then all else that follows is working backwards through all available material to find things to support the conclusion. White statues. White presidents. White astronauts. White kings. White tycoons. Look around – white CEOs. White engineers. White historians. White mathematicians. What else could explain it? It all fits. Just like religion.

  3. To paraphrase what I imagine John McWhorter might say: they are demanding that the university create a theology department.

  4. Whenever I see petitions or demands like this I wonder: why do the petitioners consistently want the university to commit new money (millions of dollars per year in perpetuity) for salaries, benefits, and expenses to hire new middle-class faculty members and administrative staff? Why not demand that the university spend the same amount of new money on scholarships for high school students from low-income families to attend the university as undergraduates?

    I think the second approach (scholarships, not departments) would, over 10 years or 100 years, have a greater net benefit on the lives of Black people in Chicago.

    I guess one could demand both, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. So good on the U of C for slow-walking the response to this wasteful and self-serving money grab.

    1. My cynical response is that funding scholarships etc would be solving the problem and would benefit mainly good students. Having a department of Critical Race Theory does nothing to solve the problem but it does spread the religion and it provides jobs for a lot of mediocre academics.

  5. It would be foolish to contend that sexism and racism never existed but I can’t help but wonder whether ‘Womens Studies’ and now ‘critical race and ethnic studies’ are primarily aimed at setting up a nice little earner for academics rather than tackling real world issues.

    Perhaps we could roll back the captured language too. No longer Critical Race Theory, but Critical Race Hypothesis?

  6. It would not bother me if such a department were to actually study, historically, how white dominated institutions suppressed blacks and other minorities. I don’t doubt that happened. Such studies could have important lessons for today. State Republican parties are now anxious to suppress voting by the poor and black, as did the Southern Democrats in the past. Where they (the CRT folks) cross the line IMO is 1) using the university as a political tool to bring about changes they believe are needed and 2) their assertion that current society is irredeemably racist and their refusal to consider alternative points of view without claiming that contrary opinion is racist.

  7. Yesterday I came across an interesting piece on the history of whiteness, and who was included. (Reference at the bottom of this comment.) It takes a deliberately British perspective, but flags up what I found to be some really fascinating stuff. In effect, the British white working class (especially the white urban working class) were effectively treated as a separate racial group and not regarded as “white” at all. This is revealed in the parallels between Victorian descriptions of visiting Africa and London’s white English in their slums; for example, William Booth wrote in 1890,

    As there is a darkest Africa, is there not also a darkest England? […] Within a stone’s throw of our cathedrals and palaces exist similar horrors to those Stanley has found in the great Equatorial forest.

    (By contrast, Victorians were also visiting the rural white working class to collect folk songs etc. but with the attitude of wishing to learn from, rather than study, them.)

    Rather astonishingly, in August 1866, the Daily Telegraph deliberately described a crowd of entirely white rioters as “negroes”; and John Beddoe in his Index of Negrescence claimed that the western Irish and some Welsh groups were “Africanoid”.

    The author of the paper, written in 1998, says, with some prescience in my view, that

    Another critique that will, hopefully, be stimulated by this essay concerns the limitations of anti-racism. If one accepts that white identity needs to be understood as historically and geographically variable and, moreover, that its symbolic formation is, at least in part, bound up with the formation and reformation of capitalism, then one is likely to be critical of most existing forms of anti-racist practice and theory. It is not just that anti-racisms tend to draw on, indeed rely on, a static ahistorical conception of white identity. For just as damaging is their blindness to the changing class connotations of white identity, a myopia that leads to an interpretation of white identity as purely and simply an elite identity.

    Sadly, that critique is still somewhat awaited.

    Reference: Bonnett, Alistair. (1998). How the British Working Class Became White: The Symbolic (Re)Formation of Racialized Capitalism. Journal of Historical Sociology. Vol.11 No. 3. September 1998. ISSN 0952-1909

    You should be able to download a free pdf here:

  8. “The students are revolutionizing.”

    you students said. But IIRC, at least some of us profs said 5 years earlier–(I did a brief postdoc at UC in 1967 before you were a university student)–

    “The students are revolting (I’d rather do research)”.

    Not seriously, but it was a feeble double entendre. I wasn’t that good at washing under my armpits as an undergrad.

    Somebody would have said ‘The peasants are revolting, ha ha’ in France 220 years ago except for the language difference. Unoriginal I’m sure.

    I just realized that two people beat me to it; wasted (NO!) too much time just now finally getting my vaccine appointment, for tomorrow AM!!

      1. Not sure which I’ll get, but I don’t care much. They’ll surely say if I remember to ask. #2 won’t be for 4 months I think. My info indicates J&J vaccine isn’t common up here yet, so #2 will happen.

        I’ll be interested to hear how you’ll fare for the next few days.

        1. The guy that gave me the injection said “you’ll probably have a sore arm tomorrow, and maybe a sore head. Here’s a leaflet with other side effects – if you read it, you’re more likely to have them, but it’s up to you”. An honest approach, I suppose!

      2. The health ministries (as I’ve heard it on US NPR radio) have stated that the answer does not indicate “non-null” result: The rates of bleeding are not statistically different from the background rates.

        This sort of (correct) analysis goes over the heads most people. I even have trouble explaining it for my wife (who has done stats on data for her (EBD) PhD).

      3. Mine was Pfizer. I can’t believe how smooth it all went. I’m almost relieved I got a very slight bruising feeling in that shoulder from about 6+ to 18+ hours and absolutely nothing else, seemed almost feeling better than usual. Not really, but no sorish shoulder and I might wonder if it really happened–not the slightest prick from needle.

        I hope yours was as good. It sounds like #2 jab can make one a bit more under the weather for a day or two. Mine is likely not till early July.

  9. Again, the $64 question is, what will we hear from UofC’s new president? Alivisatos’ response will be the clincher here. I don’t imagine he’s said anything officially yet, or Jerry would have included that information. But that’s what’s going to be the real oracle for U Chicago’s future.

  10. if it were my university (and it was some time ago – Georgetown U.) – I’d be as steamed as you, professor.
    Ridiculous, expensive and harmful.
    CRT is a mind virus for which there is no vaccine, sadly.


  11. I share our host’s exasperation with and dismay at these students claiming, without any hard evidence, that the U of C is “even now, upholding white supremacy.” Frankly, I’m getting revolted by people who are members of groups, organizations, or associations that are in reality models of non-racism and non-discrimination claiming that their groups are still complicit in racism. These people should on the contrary be proud of where their organizations are today in comparison to where they were a century ago. They should be proud of the accomplishments and advancements their organizations have already made in securing social justice. Instead, to return to my idea that we’re seeing an intellectual/moral anorexia of sorts, we have spokespeople of organizations that are shining examples of successful diversity and inclusion claiming the very opposite. I really feel sorry for them, because they are living in a bizarro world that, as others have alluded to, is the result of being brainwashed by the crypto-religion, CRT.

  12. I’m so very VERY sick of the New Woke Times’ celebrity rag quality lately. There is nothing, but nothing that narcisistic attention sucking talentless Demi Lovato can do which is even APPROACHING even Penny Saver “news”.
    And articles about astrology.
    Even as a NYer this is getting my goat!

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