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Tuesday marked the beginning of the spring semester for students at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers. For associate professor Ted Thornhill and his 50 students, however, lessons for his sociology class called “White Racism” began in November, when he started receiving tens of threatening calls and emails just for offering the course.
According to the News-Press, via the Naples Daily News, at least two campus police officers were on site for the class’ first meeting on Tuesday as a precaution after news of Thornhill’s course on racism spread on social media, sparking backlash in the form of personal emails and phone calls.
“In this course, we will interrogate the concept of race; examine the 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 white racism and white supremacy toward promoting an anti-racist society where whiteness is not tied to greater life chances,” the course description reads.
After the opening of the university’s course schedule in the fall, Thornhill’s class drew ire from critics who didn’t agree with the validity of the course, delivered both personally to Thornhill and impersonally via website comments. In total, the associate professor turned over 46 pages of emails and several voicemails to campus police out of precaution for his and students’ safety. At least one caller openly used the N-word, while an emailer wished Thornhill to contract cancer.
After meeting with university president Mike Martin and others in December, Thornhill had a security plan put in place for the class but didn’t say for how long police would monitor the class’ meetings.
“I take these type of things seriously just like when people were writing racist things on the whiteboard and then posting things around campus,” Thornhill said. “You never know what people are thinking and what they might be capable of. It’s good to be cautious…I think most of us don’t anticipate there being any unrest or protest or anything like that. But it’s more of a prudent measure to have law enforcement present just in case.”
Thornhill did not respond to a request for comment from the Daily Dot regarding the first class’ events. However, the News-Press published a photo story on Tuesday following the class’ first meeting with the headline, “White Racism class at FGCU begins with no incidents reported,” featuring photos of police standing around the entrance of Reed Hall on the Florida Gulf Coast University campus.
Florida Gulf Coast University students have witnessed several acts of white supremacy and racism across its campus in recent years. Twice in 2016, a noose was found drawn on a whiteboard in a study hall, the former incident including the word “kill,” and the latter including “Noose Tying 101.” Additionally, both white supremacist and “It’s okay to be white” fliers were posted around the campus in 2017, according to NBC2 News.
Senior Brittani Anderson told CBS affiliate WINK that she felt the “White Racism” course to be necessary because of the campus’ past.
“I think it’s important we talk about these issues, especially because we’ve had these issues on campus,” Anderson said. “I think the name is a little controversial, but take the class and see what it’s about before you judge it.”
H/T NBC2 News
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.