U of C student who opposed class on “whiteness” should enroll in it

Take the class. Meet the professor. Challenge anything that fails the test of truth. Learn from what seems right or wrong.

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A Pedestrian walks through the Main Quadrangles (Quad) on the Hyde Park Campus of the University of Chicago on Nov. 30, 2015.

A Pedestrian walks through the Main Quadrangles (Quad) on the Hyde Park Campus of the University of Chicago on Nov. 30, 2015.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Your recent editorial on freedom of inquiry at the University of Chicago reminded me of an unpleasant experience I had at Northwestern in 1966. It was my first college-level U.S. History class, taught by a proud Marxist, and I was in a class with some of the first inner-city students to be admitted to Northwestern under an integration plan based on equity and promise, rather than on biased test scores.

I was a white, middle-class kid from the suburbs of Kansas City. I had an accent that pegged me for a redneck, but I was always quite liberal-minded. Nevertheless, in the spirit of learning more about poverty and urban life, I said some naïve things that my white peers thought might get me mugged.

My problem wasn’t the inner-city students — it was the professor. He insisted on a Marxist reading of our history. I gave it my all. I read Franz Fanon’s Wretched of The Earth, but I didn’t understand a word of it. I was awarded a C because I couldn’t wrap my mind around the Marxist requirements for ideological correctness. I complained, but the teacher was unmoved. His judgment says more about him than about me.

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I changed my focus from history to English. My point: I didn’t try to take control of the history department. I advocated for myself, and not for any ideology. Had I been treated unfairly? Yes, but life is unfair. Only by advocating for myself did I ever find myself.

The U. of C. student who tried to cancel the “Problem of Whiteness” class should take the class. Engage with others and treat them fairly while listening to your own voice, and you might learn something; if you are treated unfairly or given a poor grade because you cannot bend yourself to fit the mold, then you might have grounds to complain or material for a book.

But what’s more important is that you will learn how to stand on your own feet and feel proud about standing up for yourself rather than for some abstract cause that is, in the end, another trap.

The teacher who titled her class “The Problem of Whiteness” is asking for trouble from every right-wing vigilante group in the country. She must know that. She’s not stupid. Right now, she is benefitting from media attention. I applaud the Sun-Times for supporting freedom of enquiry, but I criticize the professor for creating controversial expectations. From the course description, it appears that the title is misleading. There will be leftist students who expect to have their biases confirmed; there will be right-wing students who go off half-cocked and shout hurrah because it feels like they’re firing for effect, although they are not.

Dear student: You’re at the U. of C. for a reason, and that reason is not to publish an email and declare victory or victimization. You don’t need a degree from the U. of C. just to become a media influencer. Apologize for your rudeness and request a clean slate. Take the class. Meet the professor. Challenge anything that fails the test of truth. Learn from what seems right or wrong. Don’t run away from the engagement.

Advocate for yourself, for your abilities, and you will come out better for it.

Christopher Sweet, Andersonville

Aging out of politics

In Tuesday’s paper you had an interesting article about Ald. Ed Burke retiring after some 50+ years on Chicago City Council while facing a federal indictment. When his brother Dan Burke was interviewed, he stated, “Do the math. 78 years old. Come on. When is enough enough?”

You know who else should ponder that sage advice? Joe Biden. More than 50+ years in politics and appearing more feeble at times than Ed Burke. If he decides to run in 2024 he will be 82.

Robert Stasch, O’Hare

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