UF students push to replace humanities requirement with 'race & racism' course

A petition that would require freshmen to take a Race & Racism course has received more than 25,000 signatures.

But even the professor who teaches the course says the class should remain optional.

A new movement at the University of Florida seeks to change the mandated freshman course from an introduction to the humanities to one on “Race & Racism.”

Currently, the required freshman course is “IDS1161: What is the Good Life,” in which students examine “works of art, music, literature, history, religion, and philosophy” as an “invitation to the Humanities and to a lifetime of reflection on the human condition.”

A petition calling for the university to change the required freshman course to ANT3451: Race & Racism, was started by University of Florida graduate Sarah Klein. 

According to the 2019 course syllabus, the “course examines the concept of race from the perspectives of biological and cultural anthropology.”

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“The first part of the course focuses on patterns of human biological variation and critically examines how these patterns compare to conventional ideas about race. The second part traces the origins of the race concept and explores the links between race and science. The third part examines the experience and consequences of racism in the United States and in other societies,” reads the syllabus. 

The course has two required texts: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Seeing White: An Introduction to White Privilege and Race by Amy Eshleman, Jean O’Malley Halley, and Ramya Mahadevan Vijaya. 

Klein’s petition, addressed to UF President Kent Fuchs, has amassed over 25,000 signatures so far. In her call to action, she states “implementing ANT3451: Race and Racism as the required freshman course is one step that you can take to combat ignorance. To combat racism. To combat police brutality and lynching and white supremacy.”

Klein, who took the class during her sophomore year at UF, told Campus Reform that she started the petition felt the need to “do something” more than just post on social media. 

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“All the posts and momentum on social media was inspiring, but I was scared that we would fall back into complacency without major change occurring,” said Klein. “I felt the urge to do something that was beyond just sharing posts on Instagram or articles on Facebook. I didn’t put as much thought into it as it really deserved; it was sort of a rash decision made from the emotions I was feeling, so I understand the flaws in it and that implementing this idea comes with lots of issues.”

Klein says that her decision to create the petition has led to a generally positive response and that the associate provost of undergraduate affairs even reached out to her to express how excited she was to continue the momentum that the petition has forged. 

However, Klein shared that she has experienced some backlash, and not all of it is from the obvious suspects. 

“I definitely have received backlash, from other students, friends and family, and even the Race and Racism professor himself, even though that was more-so constructive criticism. He did not support the idea for reasons that he spoke about in an op-ed with the Gainesville Sun, which are extremely valid points and important comments to bring to the discussion” Klein told Campus Reform.

In a recent op-ed published in The Gainesville Sun, the professor of the course in questions, Lance Gravlee, argued against making his own course mandatory.

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Gravlee told Campus Reform that he doesn’t think it is his job “as a professor to determine what kinds of courses or ideas students choose to consider.” He added that he welcomes “disagreement, debate, and the free exchange of ideas” in his class and noted the special role of universities as a “marketplace of ideas.” He says he makes a point, on the second day of class, to discuss First Amendment protections and the Standard of Ethical Conduct in the UF Student Conduct Code.

“I recognize that conversations about racism are inherently political. Many people on the political right — including some of my students — dismiss concepts like ‘whiteness,’ ‘privilege,’ or ‘white fragility.’ My job as a professor is to engage those arguments carefully. We don’t have to agree, but I aim to challenge my students respectfully to think critically about their assumptions and evidence. And in the best classes, they challenge me to do the same” said Gravlee.

Gravlee posted a link to his article on Twitter, explaining how some might have expected to find his signature on the petition. 

”Some 23,000 people have signed a petition to make the class I teach on Race & Racism, #ant3451, required for
@UF students. You might expect me to be among them, but I’m not,” wrote Gravlee adding that “We need systemic change + white people need to cede, not lead.”

He later posted another tweet stating that he and Klein were “in conversation” and that the university administration was organizing a meeting “to meet and discuss ways to address the spirit of the petition and the support it has received.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @opheliejacobson.