University of Wisconsin-Madison community members expressed concerns with a letter sent from Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly Robin Vos to Chancellor Rebecca Blank earlier this month accusing the university of “turning its back on the values of intellectual diversity” due to the inclusion of Critical Race Theory in the curriculum of a online prevention education course for graduate students.
In his letter, Speaker Vos emphasized that it is “unacceptable” that the university requires graduate students to take a class that he believes “instills the university’s negative opinion of white students and the idea that students should feel guilty simply because of their race.”
Jack Phillips, a graduate student and member of both the Associated Students of Madison (ASM) and the Teaching Assistants Association (TAA), who has participated in the UHS course described their concerns with Vos’ letter and his portrayal of the course.
“I did go back and look at what I could from the course to refresh my memory,” Phillip said. “The course that I took covers violence prevention strategies, support structures for victims of violence and abuse, and mechanisms for reporting violence.”
Phillips emphasized that they never felt uncomfortable participating in the course and that there was no mention of the phrases “Critical Race Theory” or “Critical Race Feminism” when they referred back.
The course in reference is a two hour online webinar called “Graduate and Professional Students Preventing and Responding to Sexual and Relationship Violence,” which incoming graduate students are required to take in order to enroll in classes. University Health Services (UHS) administers the course and said that the program aims to enhance students understanding of sexual assult and harrasment, effective prevention strategies, available campus resources and victim rights.
“I’ve never heard of anyone with reservations about this course nor feelings of alienation from it,” Phillips said, noting that graduate students and workers are more concerned about other issues facing the community than Speaker Vos' letter.
The violence prevention course, as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, references how privilege can feed institutional power that can create dangerous, racist structures, stating that Critical Race Theory can help students understand “how a regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of color have been created and maintained in America.”
“If Speaker Vos wishes to support graduate students, he should propose adequately funding public education and support the current effort of several lawmakers to repeal Act 55, which killed shared governance at UW-Madison,” Phillips continued.
Ultimately, Phillips believes that Speaker Vos is attempting to cause “moral panic” around Critical Race Theory.
“This moral panic is essentially genocide denial applied to centuries of slavery and its lasting impacts on our nation,” Phillips said, emphasizing that Critical Race Theory is often utilized in political agendas. “Rep. Vos is pushing an explicitly fascist talking point and wants to set the stage for a long, slow genocide of marginalized groups by eliminating reference to us in any education materials.”
Describing the usage of Critical Race Theory in Vos’ political rhetoric as “astroturfed,” Phillips emphasized their concern about potential violence on-campus and in the greater Madison area community as educational institutions such as school boards, for example, have been a point of tension with far-right militias due to policy and curriculum decisions around the country.
“By stoking outrage over UW-Madison’s violence prevention initiative with this language, Vos is essentially inviting militias to the UW campus,” said Phillips.
In response to Speaker Vos’ letter, ASM also reiterated support for the university’s use of the violence prevention initiative.
“ASM stands behind UW-Madison’s ‘Graduate and Professional Students Preventing and Responding to Sexual and Relationship Violence’ education webinar … we defend the program’s race-conscious content, as marginalized individuals and groups disproportionately experience sexual and relationship violence,” the Nov. 22 statement reads.
Blank, who Speaker Vos’ letter was directed toward, has yet to publicly comment or release a statement.