Wineke: Do we now fear bruising the innocence of grad students?

UW-Madison campus

MADISON, Wis. — Have we honest-to-God now reached a point in Wisconsin where we fear graduate students are too innocent to be exposed to the idea that white privilege might affect how things work?

Apparently, we are.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos sent a letter to UW-Madison leaders demanding they explain why a mandatory webinar on sexual violence prevention included references to critical race theory. It reflected a video produced by Republican gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch asserting that the training materials just further “liberal” indoctrination.

Vos said the training “instills the university’s negative opinion of white students and the idea that students should feel guilty simply because of their race.”

Apparently, the online course includes two slides, one of which suggests that white supremacy has played a role in the nation’s history and the other that whites, males and Christians have had privileged roles.

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I haven’t personally seen any of these documents but, from what I’ve read, what I find shocking is that any student could reach the graduate level without concluding that each of those sentiments is basically correct.

Can one really graduate from a college or university undergraduate program and not know that a good part of our land was taken from Native Americans? Or that it was legal in our country for people to own human beings for much of our past? Or that women didn’t get the right to vote until the 20th century?

I would hope that even a high school graduate in Madison would know that many of the city’s most prestigious neighborhoods were not open to African Americans or Jews when they were developed.

Among the stories I wrote when I was a newspaper reporter were accounts of the first women police and fire department officers, the first Jewish member of the Madison Club, that sort of thing. I was also there when my newspaper hired its first Black reporter.

This sort of thing is not indoctrination. It is fact. And any person graduating from college or even high school, should know those facts.

Should students feel “guilty” just because they have learned those facts?

No, I don’t think white students should feel guilty for acts they have not personally committed. But it doesn’t bother me a bit to think that they might be compelled to feel privileged and that their privilege came at a cost to others.

The apparent majority of Republican politicians these days — heirs as they are to Abraham Lincoln — seems to believe there is electoral gold in protecting the sensibilities of parents of white children.

Personally, I think that’s nonsense but that may be because I know a lot of teachers and I know they don’t indoctrinate kids.

But to say we can’t even expose university graduate students to controversial ideas strikes me as beyond idiocy.