By Haley Maynard
This past quarter I decided I would take a class from a department I didn’t know much about and found the class CSRE: Introduction to Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity. I had yet to take a class that focused on race and/or ethnicity, and I was excited to hear the viewpoints of different minority groups in an academic environment. (I am a Caucasian/Latina female but consider myself to be white.) With great disappointment, I quickly realized that this class was not about educating Stanford students about issues dealing with race and ethnicity, but was instead intended to spread an extreme political agenda. Professors Moya and Markus, as well as the guest lecturers, essentially pegged white conservative Christians as the cause of many of the problems we face today with regard to race. I wanted to use this article to describe the class and touch on some of the material that was taught to us as well as to show that while the class itself had good intentions, the professors and TAs were not interested in keeping their politics out of the classroom. Moreover, I think the racial issues that keep people from living out their potential in their lives are egregious, and I hope we can remedy them in the near future.
Before I go into specifics, I want to say that there were some parts of the class that were very insightful. For example, the theory of “doing ethnicity,” which allows people to identify with ethnic groups based on shared characteristics that are seen as a sense of pride, motivation and belonging, is a great way to think about race and ethnicity. Unfortunately, these positive points were few and far between, and the class was instead focused on mostly spreading liberal political ideas.
The class was comprised of guest lectures every class period and then “bridging” lectures from either Professor Moya or Markus. In the first few classes, Professor Moya and Markus gave us the lectures, and this was when I got the idea that this class was not just about race, but also about politics. Professor Markus wanted to show how there were some people who were “racist” on mainstream television and showed clips of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Other charged commentary that Professor Markus alluded to was that Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs” and tax cuts in the early 1980’s were a way for him to incarcerate African-American men to suppress the Black vote, and that the Hoover Institution on campus was a place that spread rumors and lies about society. This was only the start and once the guest lectures started it became more and more obvious with each class that there was a clear agenda—paint white conservatives as the “problem” in our country in regard to race.
Many of the other lecturers had politically charged views as well. For example, Shanto Iyengar argued in his lecture entitled “Race and Media” that the United States should adopt widespread public broadcasting services as many other European countries do. He said the reason that the United States does not have a huge presence in public broadcasting is because “Republicans were trying to cut the funding.” In his next segment, he discussed “wedge appeals,” which are ads designed to pit groups against each other, for the candidate to appeal to voters’ sense of group identity, and again he targeted only Republicans. He gave examples such as John McCain ads making Obama’s skin color darker than it really was, other ads attacking George H.W. Bush’s opponent in a racist manner, and Meg Whitman backing off of her fight against illegals. At the end of the class, someone asked the question if public broadcasting could work in our partisan political climate, and Mr. Iyengar responded, “Republicans think a documentary is biased.” Mr. Iyengar did not come to talk about real issues, but to spread his liberal ideas as truth, and he did not even present the other side.
Yet another politically charged lecture came from Brian Lowery, which was entitled “Managing and Maintaining Dominance.” While he did have some good points about how minorities are less advantaged than whites, he went into politics again to show how “racist” white Republicans were. In his study about inequality, he described the results that showed that there were people (all white) who voted for Obama in the 2008 Presidential election so if elected, they could say that race was no longer an issue in our country, and they would have leeway in decreasing the commitment to policies designed to increase racial equity. At the end of the lecture someone asked about reverse racism, and he said it didn’t exist. He used the example how it used to be OK that men sexually harassed women in the workplace and that it was no longer allowed. He then asked the question back to the student if she thought that was reverse racism. Whether reverse racism exists or not, he gave no explanation and brushed off the student’s question completely.
The most charged lecture came from Joel Benin. Upon further research, I found that he is not someone who would ever be interested in a balanced debate. His lecture was entitled, “Arabs, Islam and Western Cultural Tradition.” He came with no lectures slides, and his lecture turned into an hour-long rant about the Iraq War and how corrupt the United States is. He did not have any points about race but focused on how Bush lied to the American people about WMDs in Iraq and the reason he invaded was because, and he claimed to have quotes of this, that Bush thought his God was bigger and better than the Muslim God and he would show them his God’s true power. I have never felt so violated in what should be a comfortable and open environment. The lecture instead turned into an emotionally charged rant on how authoritarian and dictatorial America is. It was somewhat nice to see that most of the class quickly tuned out when he began his ranting. Towards the end of his lecture he told us that we should not watch CNN, MSNBC, or Fox News and should instead tune into Al-Jazeera, which is the network of choice for Osama Bin Laden. If you type in his name in Google, you can find that he has called suicide bombers “martyrs” and stated that 9/11 was justified because of America’s oppressive foreign policies.
While I wanted to take a class that talked about real racial problems in our country, CSRE 196C was instead a politically charged class that tried to paint Republicans as the real problem and promote liberal politics. It is sad that even at Stanford, we cannot take a class about race that is balanced politically, and that doesn’t relentlessly bash conservative politics while trying to get the class to believe in their liberal ideas. I doubt I will ever take a class like this again and I am thoroughly disappointed that such classes with these agendas even exist, especially at one of the top academic institutions in the world.