The head of Louisiana’s House Education Committee introduced a bill that would make it illegal to teach about systemic racism and sexism at Louisiana universities and K-12 schools that receive state funds.
The bill was presented April 2 for the upcoming Louisiana Legislature’s 2021 regular session by Rep. Ray Garofalo and is pending in the House Education Committee.
It would prevent universities and K-12 schools that receive state funds from teaching “that either the United States of America or the state of Louisiana is fundamentally, institutionally or systemically racist.”
Furthermore, it would outlaw teaching that “the concepts of capitalism, free markets or working for a private party in exchange for wages are racist and sexist or oppress a given race or sex.”
The bill also seeks to ban teaching racial and gender equity over racial and gender equality. The bill defines equity as “unequal treatment of individuals because of their race, sex or national origin,” whereas equality is defined as equal treatment.
The terms “systemic racism” and “systemic sexism” are generally used to describe biases and discrimination embedded in society and within institutions, leading to a different level of access to goods, services and opportunities for historically underrepresented groups.
The bill, however, considers these ideas to be “divisive.”
“No training that teaches, advocates, acts upon or promotes divisive concepts shall be provided to students or employees,” the bill reads.
“Hindering children and students from learning about the racist and sexist history of our nation only holds us back from true progress,” criminology and political science junior Javin Bowman said. “After multiple social movements centered on destroying racism and sexism barriers this nation holds over people of color and women, you would think there should be a push to increase the teaching of these subjects.”
“You can’t teach American history without teaching systemic racism and sexism,” political science and philosophy sophomore Devin Scott said. “Our country was built on the backs of the oppressed, but schools have refrained from teaching that for decades.”
Garofalo represents District 103, covering a portion of southeast Louisiana, including St. Bernard Parish. He assumed office in 2012.
In February, Garofalo made local headlines after raising concerns about an academic panel discussion at LSU titled “White Rage,” a LSU Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs series about dismantling the historical system of racism.
Garofalo said he was worried that ideas about dismantling systemic racism were an official position of the University and/or the Board of Regents.
“I’ve also received some questions regarding the series ‘Racism: Dismantling the System’. In particular, what ‘system’ are the advocates suggesting be dismantled, why does said system require dismantling, and again, is this an official position of the University and/or the BOR,” Garofalo wrote in an email to Louisiana Higher Education Commissioner Kim Hunter-Reed.
Reed forwarded that email to Interim President Thomas Galligan, according to the Advocate.
Galligan responded to Garofalo and Reed that the panel was an academic discussion, and didn’t represent any position taken by the University, according to the Advocate.
LSU students and professors reacted to Garofalo’s bill on Twitter.
“This legislation runs contrary to the very idea of a university,” LSU communication studies professor Bryan McCann said. “It violates free speech and academic freedom. Higher education is about free inquiry and the exchange of ideas, which inevitably involves encountering ideas that make us uncomfortable. Reckoning with the history of racism, sexism, and other forms of inequality in the U.S. makes many of us uneasy, but is essential for a thriving democratic culture — something universities have a major role in helping cultivate.”
McCann’s teaching and scholarship focus on the prison-industrial complex, organized labor, academic freedom, campus climate concerns and other social justice issues.
“To legislate against teaching about racism and other forms of oppression has the effect of gaslighting students from historically underrepresented groups,” McCann said. “It tells Black students that their experiences of injustice are not real. It tells women that sexism is just in their minds.”
LSU recently turned its African and African American Studies program into a department and has committed to a number of other initiatives to promote diversity, equity and inclusion.
“LSU and other state universities employ some of the best scholars and teachers on matters of social inequality in the world,” McCann said. “If this bill passes, such esteem and progress will slip away. It will become increasingly difficult to attract new faculty when, on top of our state’s non-competitive salaries and other incentives, it is quite literally illegal for them to teach in their area of expertise.
“Furthermore, for those of us presently in the state who teach in these topics, more of us will seek faculty positions elsewhere. This will only exacerbate the statewide brain drain from which Louisiana has been suffering for years. It will keep us at the bottom of the list for so many metrics among the other 49 states.”
Garofalo calls himself a free speech advocate and said he has been concerned that conservative viewpoints are often censored on campuses around the country, according to the Advocate.
Garofalo’s bill, however, would likely be deemed unconstitutional because it violates students’ and professors’ free speech protections, LSU law professor Ken Levy said.
“Students also have a very strong First Amendment right not only to express their own speech and ideas, but also to receive them,” Levy said. “They have broad First Amendment rights, as do the teachers of these students.
“Sometimes, these broad rights will come into conflict with the state’s power to determine the curriculum. The free speech rights of the teachers and the students will prevail over this dumb bill.”
Levy said students and professors shouldn’t worry about the bill passing.
“This is nothing more than a cheap political stunt,” Levy said. “We should treat this like the joke that it is. It’s unbelievably stupid.”