Florida Gulf Coast University began its spring semester this week, but for some students today, that meant wading through a sea of reporters and officers just to get into their classroom.
“I’ve never had a class where, like, I’ve had to deal with media or, like, the police having to stand outside of the classroom," Tammy Falcon said.
Falcon is one of the 50 students enrolled in the White Racism sociology course at FGCU.
The purpose of the class, as explained in its course description, is to "interrogate the concept of race; examine racist ideologies, laws, policies, and practices that have operated for hundreds of years to maintain white racial domination over those racialized as non-white; and discuss ways to challenge and disrupt white racism and dethrone white supremacy in the service of engendering an anti-racist society where whiteness is not tied to greater life chances."
The White Racism class was added to FGCU’s course catalog in response to a number of racist incidents that occurred on campus during the 2016-2017 school year. At the time, the events garnered national coverage, and now, this course is receiving national attention of its own, polarizing people both near and far.
After the university received virulent opposition across social media, FGCU President Mike Martin issued a statement in support of the course back in November – two months before its first class meeting.
“I’m not going to get in the business, unless people get way out of bounds, of trying to manipulate the coursework offered by legitimately good professors that engage our students," Martin said, "and I just wanted to send that message.”
That message was well-received by the course’s professor, Dr. Ted Thornhill. He says he appreciates any support he gets amidst some 46 pages and counting of emailed threats he’s received regarding the course. Some call him racial slurs. Others wish cancer, specifically stage 4, upon him and his family.
Despite that, Thornhill seemed at ease leaving the first lecture.
“It went well. You know, it’s the first day of the semester, so we mostly spent time going over the syllabus and setting expectations, talking about the requirements of the course," Thornhill said. "The kind of meat and potatoes issues — the topics that we’ll address in the course schedule — are going to begin on Thursday.”
Thursday’s lecture will focus on subjects such as the myth that black people are naturally good athletes, the racial measurement in the American Census in both the past and future and the racialization of Islamophobia.
Tammy Falcon said she is looking forward to it after today’s relatively calm meeting.
“It’s the first day, so everyone just seemed quiet, and like, no one knew each other," Falcon said. "But, you know, I have a feeling that there will be some people who will be more outspoken about certain things.”
Thornhill says that’s fine, as long as it’s a productive discussion. It’s the outsiders, the ones opposing the topic outside the four walls of his classroom, that worried him and the university police department enough to station officers all along the academic hall’s entrance.
WGCU News will continue following the progress of the course and its students throughout the semester.