Daniel Luzer of Washington Monthly writes that although he has sympathy for Shannon Gibney, the Minneapolis Community and Technical College instructor reprimanded for how she handled a class discussion on structural racism, there’s a point to consider:
Structural racism is a very difficult concept to teach to students, and professors have to be very careful about presenting the information in a way that’s digestible and doesn’t appear hostile.
It’s a new concept for most college freshmen, particularly white students, and it’s easy to misinterpret the lesson and feel attacked. That’s what a structural problem does, after all.
The students might be wrong, but that’s because they failed to understand the material. Or, perhaps more importantly, the professor failed to present it clearly. And that’s her fault. That doesn’t, of course, make her guilty of racial harassment, but it does make her a bad teacher.
Classes like these are actually very, very difficult to teach well, in part because the students tend to take these complicated things pretty personally.
And that’s the really hard part about being in academia. For many subjects, it’s not enough to teach the information, you have to do a good job teaching it, so students really understand. If that’s a problem, maybe there’s a better way to present the material.