ASU’s ‘Problem of Whiteness’ Course Stirs Up Controversy and Conversation


The new English class at Arizona State University, U.S. Race Theory & the Problem of Whiteness, is causing quite a stir as it opens up a dialogue between students enrolled.

The course currently has 18 students enrolled and is being taught by assistant professor Lee Bebout. Professor Bebout intends to delve into what the concept of “Whiteness” really means as it has morphed far beyond a mere skin color over the last decade.

Students enrolled in the course are said to use five books that are expected to support the conversations expected to occur during the course. The texts used in this upper-division English course are: “Playing in the Dark” by Toni Morrison, “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” by Richard Delgado, “Everyday Language of White Racism” by Jane Hill, “Alchemy of Race & Rights” by Patricia Williams and “The Possessive Investment in Whiteness” by George Lipsitz.

The controversial course has managed to ruffle the feathers of some students attending ASU, as one student demonstrated on the Friday morning taping of “Fox & Friends”.

Lauren Clark is one student at ASU who is not a fan of the course. She is not enrolled in the course either, but still had a lot to say about it. She told the show’s host, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, “Clearly we have a lot of work to go as a society in terms of racial tensions, but having a class that suggests an entire race is the problem is inappropriate, wrong and quite frankly, counterproductive.”

Hasselbeck also expressed some very specific views on Friday’s show as she called the course “quite unfair, and wrong and pointed.”

She goes on to say, “The description of ‘The Problem of Whiteness’ course, I want to let everybody know, it says this. It’s a little wordy here, but it’s ‘The postcolonialist, psychoanalytical, deconstructionist, feminist, new historicist.’ I mean, once you get through that, maybe that will tell you what the class is about.”

Sounds an awful lot like a course designed to promote critical thinking and conversation, but that’s just the impression gleaned from reading that very course description.

The administration at Arizona State University quickly released a statement in defense of the English class and stood by its intent to draw out hard, sometimes polemical issues. The ASU statement read:

“This course uses literature and rhetoric to look at how stories shape people’s understandings and experiences of race. It encourages students to examine how people talk about – or avoid talking about – race in the contemporary United States. This is an interdisciplinary course, so student draw on history, literature, speeches and cultural changes – from scholarly texts to humor. This class is designed to empower students to confront the difficult and often thorny issues that surround us today and reach thoughtful conclusions rather than display gut reactions. A university is an academic environment where we discuss and debate a wide array of viewpoints.”

Professor Bebout has come under a good deal of heat for his part in teaching the course, even though he himself identifies as White and has taught other classes focusing on different courses focusing on various races.

He wrote in an email,”the last 24 hours have been stressful with some of the vitriolic hate mail that I have received,” as a response to various media requests for a comment.

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