American Sociological Association Statement, Guidebook Back Teaching about Race and Racism

Citing as one example a Florida university’s sociology department canceling all its courses that focused on race, the American Sociological Association recently released a statement “urg[ing] public officials, educators, and lawmakers to avoid suppressing knowledge, violating academic and free speech, and prohibiting scholars and teachers from discussing and teaching about the roles of race and racism in society.”

The 117-year-old learned society at the same time released a 17-page “sociological guide for the public” on race and racism in the United States. the guide is based on the idea that “understanding systemic racism as a step toward eradicating it and working toward a more just U.S. society.”

The actions come amid a welter of culture war skirmishes on race and gender themes. The ASA argues that “many sociologists and sociology teachers are currently facing fear for their livelihoods and careers due to the suppression of discussions of race and structural racism.”

It points to two sociology professors at the University of Central Florida who cancelled their race-focused courses in the wake of Florida’s Individual Freedom Act. Jonathan Cox, an assistant sociology professor at UCF, told The Atlantic magazine and ProPublica, “It didn’t seem like it was worth the risk. I’m completely unprotected. Somebody who’s not even in the class could come after me. Somebody sees the course catalog, complains to a legislator—next thing I know, I’m out of a job.” So Cox canceled two undergraduate courses, “Race and Social Media” and “Race and Ethnicity.”

In announcing the legislation, also known as the “Stop W.O.K.E Act,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was quoted, “In Florida we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory. We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other. We also have a responsibility to ensure that parents have the means to vindicate their rights when it comes to enforcing state standards.”

The Florida legislation isn’t the only anti-WOKE legislation focused on restricting what can be taught at state-sponsored universities or school districts appearing before state legislators. In a running tally of “educational gag orders,” PEN America has identified seven states with new laws limiting how or if critical race theory can be taught or used in trainings at public universities. At a more granular level, the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law’s CRT Forward Tracking Project to date has found 567 anti-critical race theory efforts to date from local, state and federal governments.

Efforts to fight back against these sorts of actions — which appear to be increasing — have provoked even more explicit attempts to limit academic freedom, such as calls to abolish academic tenure at Texas universities that followed statements from Texas academics similar in nature to the ASA’s statement.

In its statement, the ASA says it “firmly opposes any efforts to prevent educators from teaching and sharing sociological knowledge. As experts in the study of social life, change, and the causes and consequences of human behavior, sociologists recognize that race is a socially constructed concept, not a biological or natural one. We understand race as a dynamic classification system that has been used to create hierarchies and determine access and opportunities for different people based on factors such as color, culture, heritage, and location.”

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