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Learning Curves

Is Bigotry the Big Man on Campus?

A Latinx novelist challenged Georgia Southern University students to think about their whiteness. They did, and the results were not pretty.




campus bigotry
Southern Discomfort: Georgia Southern University.

Good news for Donald Trump: The base is alive and well — and working on a college degree. Or at least that’s one way to read last week’s headline-grabbing outbreaks of campus white privilege run amok. Most Incendiary Flare-up Award went to Georgia Southern University and a jaw-dropping tweeted video of white students burning copies of Make Your Home Among Strangers, the semi-autobiographical novel by Latinx author Jennine Capó Crucet that is a required text of GSU’s First-Year Experience (FYE) program. The provocation? “Dissing white people,” one tweet charged, referring to a campus appearance earlier that day by the University of Nebraska creative writing and ethnic studies professor. Touching on the novel’s theme of white privilege and how its unexamined but pervasive bias disadvantages students of color, Crucet “challenged the students … to think about their whiteness.” It was a message lost on some in the audience, who lashed out at the novelist during the Q&A with what Crucet later characterized as “aggressive & ignorant comments.”

Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to, @BillRaden.


At the University of Colorado Boulder, a slightly more conscious form of white bias is being credited with touching off a week of student walkouts and protests — the unprovoked verbal attack on a black engineering student by a white woman spewing racist invective. But students charge it was the disconnect between CU system president Mark Kennedy’s initially tepid response to a viral video of the attack and already simmering anger over the university’s less sensational but systemic racism that triggered the campus-wide uproar. “What was surprising was that it was caught on camera, not that it happened,” CU Boulder Committee on Rights and Compensation spokesperson Alex Wolf-Root told Inside Higher Ed. The resolution? An administration commitment to meet with student leaders to discuss CU Boulder Black Student Alliance demands, which include ramping up the university’s response to racism of both the explicit and implicit kind.

The smart money in Las Vegas is that American public education will be whiter and radically less secular when the Supreme Court’s freshly Trumped conservative majority finishes with two ed-related cases on the court’s 2019-20 calendar. School vouchers are at the heart of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, in which petitioners are challenging what they claim is a discriminatory Montana tax department ruling that excludes religious schools from the state’s voucher-like, 2015 tax credit scholarship law. But to uphold the Montana petitioners’ assertion that the U.S. Constitution forces states to underwrite religious education with taxpayer dollars after all, the Supremes will need to coldcock the Establishment Clause, gut the constitutions of Montana and more than 35 other states of their Blaine Amendments, and saw Thomas Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state into so much decorative garden edging.

Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California is the Trump administration’s last-ditch effort to betray nearly 800,000 Dreamers by axing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. But this time granite-hard court precedent and the administration’s own legal missteps may work against the president. Besides, the ed argument is particularly compelling. “DACA’s rescission would irreparably damage the reputation of America’s higher education system in the eyes of the world [and cripple its] ability to recruit and retain foreign-born students,” warns the American Council on Education and 43 other higher education associations.

And in the latest reminder of why the private sector might not be the ideal steward of the Golden State’s education resources, seven county school chiefs have asked California’s public education fiscal watchdog to investigate the Inspire home-school charter network. The Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team (FCMAT), which is required by law to act on county requests, will now scour the ledgers of all schools affiliated with or controlled by the Duarte-based charter network to verify the superintendents’ allegations of pervasive “fiscal malfeasance … and other improper activity.” How pervasive and improper? Kern County supe Mary Barlow and her Placer County counterpart Gayle Garbolino-Mojica told the San Diego Union-Tribune that FCMAT discoveries could rival this year’s $80 million A3 charter school network fraud.

In a separate ask, San Diego County schools supe Paul Gothold detailed suspect reporting — Inspire’s Cabrillo Point Academy has claimed student attendance rates as high as 155 percent — and a pattern of shady inter-borrowing. This year, the Union-Trib reported, of the $87 million in outstanding borrowing on the network’s books, $28 million represented loans — at interest rates of up to 37 percent — that the schools made to each other or to entities affiliated with Inspire founder and CEO Herbert “Nick” Nichols. At least 13 Inspire schools have opened in California since 2014, when the network claimed an enrollment of 151 students. This year, Inspire expects to claim $285 million in average daily attendance funding on 35,000-plus students.

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