Smith: UI professor responds to racism claims

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Wylliam Smith, [email protected]

University of Iowa Assistant Professor Jodi Linley sought to open people’s minds on the subject of white privilege, but she dug a rabbit hole that uncovers the ugly side of white supremacy.

Her article, “Teaching to deconstruct whiteness in higher education,” explains her teaching methods and discusses her goal of “raising awareness of white privilege.”

“My goal is helping my students understand white supremacy on a systemic level,” Linley said.

I applaud Linley, a white woman, for bringing awareness to the controversial topic, but Linley’s article seemed to have created a controversy of its own.

More than 500 hate emails. Almost 80 bad reviews on Facebook. Ill-informed “news articles” bashing a topic that they have not even researched. All of this was targeted at Linley, and people accused her of being racist and teaching students “that because they were white, they were inherently evil.”

When I first heard about the controversy, it spiked my interest. After literally one Google search, I found myself ultimately shocked at how ill-informed these claims really were.

Linley’s article has nothing to do with shaming white people, and it does not promote the idea that all white people are evil, either. Linley even says in the article, “I avoid shaming students and instead try to foster dissonance-provoking reflection and learning.”

After a little digging, I realized that these people sending all this hate to Linley had barely even read the abstract of her article. It’s disappointing how closed-minded people can be and how in a world of technology and information, no one can do even the slightest bit of research.

RELATED: Smith: Racism — where do we draw the line?

I had the pleasure of meeting Linley, and I will be the first to say that the professor portrayed by media and the actual Linley are complete opposites. Linley’s ideals and teachings are to promote learning and critical thinking, not self-hate and racism.

And to be honest, we need more professors like her. In the short time I’ve been in college, whenever a class begins talking about race, suddenly the room goes silent. No one wants to talk about a topic if it makes them feel bad or uncomfortable. But Linley challenges that idea of being silent.

White privilege is real, and we can’t fix it if people are afraid to acknowledge it. Linley explained to me how her class doesn’t tiptoe around race topics in hopes of making students feel safe about the topic. Instead, she creates an “unsafe” classroom where learning can begin.

“An unsafe classroom pushes students out of their comfort zones into their proximal zones of learning,” Linley said. Yes, race related topics can be sticky situations, but they need to be talked about.

I don’t have the privilege of not talking about race; no matter where I go, it follows me. I can’t say, “I’m uncomfortable” and just ignore it. And I find it powerful that Linley, too, didn’t back down even after all the backlash she received. She could have easily deleted the article, and turned tail, and run, but she held her ground. She teaches in a way that doesn’t allow students to run away from race topics while maintaining a peaceful classroom.

“When everyone in the classroom, teacher and students, recognizes that they are responsible for creating a learning community together, learning is at its most meaningful and useful,” Linley said in her article.

And that’s the part that really got me. Not only did these people call Linley a racist without even reading her article, but none of them were her students, either. Linley’s students agree with her teachings, and when the controversy arose, they made pins that said, “I stand with Jodi.”

Now, I’m not asking anyone to blindly agree with me or with Linley. I am merely encouraging people to think a little more critically about the topic. Read her article, start a dialogue with someone about it, and maybe just maybe, you’ll expand your world a little more to see the bigger picture.

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