Mandatory social justice course contrasts Rodney King with anti-police music

Several students in a required course at Roger Williams University were appalled when a recent social justice-themed lecture featured a video of the Rodney King beating followed by a song called “Fuck the Police.”

Students felt the materials presented an unfairly negative image of police, focusing on "bad apples" and ignoring good police officers.

Several students in a required course at Roger Williams University were appalled when a recent social justice-themed lecture featured a video of the Rodney King beating followed by a song called “Fuck the Police.”

Students in one of the sections of Core 102 ("History in the Modern World: Ideas of Democracy”) told Campus Reform their professor, Autumn Quezada-Grant, conducts the class in a fairly provocative manner that has led them to consider the course as something of an advertisement for social justice teachings.

Prof. Quezada-Grant has explicitly structured her class largely around social justice, saying in the syllabus: "We will poke and prod the idea(s) surrounding democracy, with an added topic—the topic of social justice."

What seems to be a critical examination of Democracy quickly turns practically anarchistic, though, relaying messages such as

  • “Be prepared to abandon every cherished ideal about democracy at the door."

  • "[D]emocracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide."

  • "What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?"

  • "Tyranny naturally arises out of democracy."

One student, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, told Campus Reform that most students are too apprehensive to question any of those precepts in class.

"No one in the class wants to speak out because we don't want to disagree,” the student related. “If I was to say something, I don't know who, if anyone, would back me up in the class."

Some students were particularly upset with a recent lecture, during which the professor showed her students an explicit video of Rodney King being beaten by police during her social justice music unit, followed later in the lecture by the song "F*ck the Police" and an interview with rapper Ice-T speaking about his song "Cop Killer."

"Social Justice music is freedom of speech. However, prefacing the conversation with the Rodney King video and ‘F*ck the Police’ felt like a mass condemnation of police officers,” one student remarked. “Sure, there are some bad apples, like there are in any profession, but not all police are bad people. Especially [as] someone considering a career in criminal justice, I feel very offended and upset."

"That's an example of a couple of bad cops, but where are the videos of them working with kids in public schools?” another student said. “Where are the videos of them taking bullets for people? Why do we constantly show images of the police in a negative way, and never for the positive things they do?"

Not only are students expected to engage in such anti-police discussions in class, but their homework requires them to actually participate in the social justice movement itself. Per the syllabus, “homework will be to engage with an organization on campus that relates directly with social justice issues. You will be asked to attend 4 meetings and/or talks/events sponsored by one particular group on campus.”

Moreover, 20 percent of each student’s final grade is determined by a social justice research project intended to “push you to think about the varying needs connected to rights in the world.” Students are free to select any social justice-related topic they wish, and are graded based on “creativity, depth of research, and presentation.”

Professor Quezada-Grant defended herself against both the broad and specific criticisms of her class, telling Campus Reform “I use social justice as a theme because it is relevant,” explaining that it helps challenge students to consider democracy as more than just the act of voting.

“[When] I say 'abandon what you think you know about democracy' it is meant to show them that we often know little about its origins and development,” she explained. “Social justice as a topic is one that our student body discusses as a whole. This is the main theme across the country on campuses.”

With respect to Wednesday’s lecture, Quezada-Grant contended that “discussing police brutality … is valid, it's in the news,” and that the song and video were appropriate as historical context.

“What is wrong with showing the Rodney King beating? It's history. It happened,” she said, adding, “it was also connected to song lyrics that another student brought up and the class didn't know what happened in 1992 and race riots.

“At the end of the semester I have students look at music to see how their music and music of other generations has been used to voice grievances,” she elaborated. “We look at NWA from the 1990s to understand how the top of police brutality is not a new discussion. It's happened before.”