A University of Chicago instructor is postponing a class titled ‘The Whiteness Problem’ after a student launched an online campaign to cancel it, sparking a wave of online harassment and death threats.
Rebecca Journey, a teacher with a doctorate in anthropology from the university, said her class analyzes whiteness as a social construct and rejected “dishonest” claims that it stokes “anti-white hatred”. She pushes class back to the spring term to give university officials time to come up with a safety plan for her and her students.
“The class is absolutely not about ‘the white people problem,'” Journey said. “The class approaches whiteness as a problem in the philosophical sense of an open question… [with] whiteness as an object of critical inquiry.
Her inbox was inundated with racist, misogynistic and anti-Semitic attacks and threats after she was accused of “anti-white” racism in a Twitter thread earlier this month. The post was widely shared by right-wing media, echoing the nationwide disinformation campaign against critical race theory.
“I want to emphasize that these attacks are a direct result of this student’s targeted cyberbullying campaign,” Journey said. “It was a malicious attack not only on me as a teacher, but on anti-racist pedagogy more broadly.”
Sophomore Daniel Schmidt posted about the course on Twitter earlier this month, along with a screenshot of Journey’s biography and college email. He previously worked as a columnist for the university’s student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, and was reportedly fired for harassing another writer.
Journey said she had never met Schmidt, adding that she believed he had “deliberately twisted” her course description to stoke grievances from white people on social media. She said she was grateful for the university’s support, but wanted the school to publicly condemn the student’s actions.
In a statement, Amanda Woodward, dean of the University of Chicago’s Division of Social Sciences, supported the course, citing the school’s commitment to free speech.
“A crucial aspect of academic freedom is the ability of instructors to design courses and programs, including those that promote debate and may lead to disagreement,” Woodward wrote.
“While differences of opinion about course material may arise, the University does not cancel classes because of such differences, and the University upholds the freedom of instructors to teach any course that has been developed by through our faculty-led curricular processes, including courses that may be controversial.
Journey said she plans to teach “The Whiteness Problem” under the same title and description.
“I’m absolutely going ahead with the class as planned,” she said. “We cannot let cyberterrorists win.”
Nereida Moreno covers education for WBEZ.