Posted on November 28, 2017

White Racism Course Causes Controversy at FGCU Just as It Did at UConn in 1990s

Thyrie Bland and Andrew West, News-Press, November 27, 2017

Florida Gulf Coast University student Aimee Weigt doesn’t shy away from discussing difficult social issues, so she didn’t hesitate to sign up for a new class that will be offered at FGCU called “White Racism.”

Ted Thornhill, an assistant professor of sociology, will teach the course, starting in January. He plans to cover everything from ways to challenge white supremacy to the ideologies, laws, policies and practices in this country that have allowed for “white racial domination over those racialized as non-white,” according to a course description.

Fifty students are signed up to take the class, but it has caused some controversy at the school, mostly due to its name. At least one flier about the class was defaced.


FGCU College Republicans treasurer Alex Pilkington said he talked to Thornhill about the course’s name after a recent panel discussion on campus about racism. He said Thornhill did a good job justifying the name, but he still thinks it is problematic.


[Thornhill] said one of the reasons he decided to teach a “White Racism” course at FGCU is because students have told him that they want more classes on race and racism.

He said one of the reasons he decided to teach a “White Racism” course at FGCU is because students have told him that they want more classes on race and racism.

Thornhill said the new class will include discussions about the classification of people based on race and the privileges that come along with being at the top of the hierarchy.


“The thing is nobody said it wasn’t OK to be white,” [Thornhill] said. “I am saying, ‘It’s not OK to be a white racist.’ There is a big difference.”


Sociology professor Noël Cazenave teaches the class at UConn. He said when he started teaching the course, it caused a lot of controversy at the university, too.

“The attacks on me were very, very vicious and very, very personal,” he said. “I was called, ‘the white racism professor,’ and what have you. And so there was really no sophisticated arguments as to why the course shouldn’t be taught.”

Cazenave said an argument made about the class was that it was offensive to white people. He said he countered that race is an ideology used to justify race-based privilege.

“One of the basic premises of the course is that the concept of race is bogus, so there are no white people to offend,” Cazenave said. “To many people who are very high in the value of white racial identity that would be more offensive to them than the course.”


“It’s not a course that is referring to anyone personally, necessarily,” he said. “For example, I tell my students periodically, ‘I am not talking about your mama. Let’s understand that racism is systemic. We are not talking about just purely the presence of individuals.'”

Cazenave said what ultimately led to him continuing to teach the class and it becoming a regular part of the curriculum at UConn was his power and the support he had on campus.


Ché Hall, 20, a junior sociology major at FGCU, said one of the reasons that she plans to take Thornhill’s new class is because of the controversy about its name.

“I think it’s a fine name to describe what the course content is going over,” she said. “I get why white people might be upset or a little angered over the name, but it’s just the reality of what it is.”

Junior sociology major Emily Nelson, 20, said she has taken three sociology classes under Thornhill and each of the classes made her a better person.


“I think that each time I take any class with Dr. Thornhill I am able to have real discussions with other people and come at political discussions about society overall with facts and statistics rather than just opinion,” she said. “I like the power, the knowledge his classes give me, so I am just hoping to get more of that.”

Ted Thornhill (left) and Noël Cazenave