‘Problem of Whiteness’ course triggers death threats against University of Chicago instructor
Teaching fellow says class isn’t about “the problem with white people,” blames criticism on its misrepresentation by student who launched “cyberbullying campaign.”
A University of Chicago instructor is postponing a class called “The Problem of Whiteness” after a student launched an online campaign to cancel it, sparking a wave of online harassment and death threats.
Rebecca Journey, a teaching fellow who earned a doctorate in anthropology from the university, said her class analyzes whiteness as a social construct and dismissed “disingenuous” claims that it stokes “anti-white hatred.” She’s pushing the course to the spring quarter to give university officials time to develop a safety plan for her and her students.
“The class is emphatically not about ‘the problem with white people,’” Journey said. “The class approaches whiteness as a problem in the philosophical sense of an open question … [with] whiteness as an object of critical inquiry.”
Her inbox was flooded with racist, misogynistic and antisemitic attacks and threats after she was accused of “anti-white” racism on a Twitter thread earlier this month. The post was widely shared by right-wing media outlets, echoing the national misinformation campaign against critical race theory.
“I want to stress that these attacks are the direct consequence of this student’s targeted cyberbullying campaign,” Journey said. “This was a malicious attack not just on me as a teacher but on anti-racist pedagogy writ large.”
Sophomore Daniel Schmidt posted about the course on Twitter earlier this month, along with a screenshot of Journey’s bio and university email. He formerly worked as a columnist at the university’s student paper, The Chicago Maroon, and reportedly was fired for harassing another writer.
Journey said she’s never met Schmidt, adding she believes he “deliberately misrepresented” her course description to stoke white grievance on social media. She said she’s grateful for the university’s support but wants the school to issue a public condemnation of the student’s actions.
In a statement, Amanda Woodward, dean of the division of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, stood by the course, citing the school’s commitment to free speech.
“A crucial aspect of academic freedom is the ability of instructors to design courses and curricula, including those that foster debate and may lead to disagreement,” Woodward wrote.
“While differences of opinion over course material may arise, the University does not cancel classes because of such differences, and the University defends the freedom of instructors to teach any course that has been developed through our faculty-led curricular processes, including courses that may be controversial.”
Journey said she plans to teach “The Problem of Whiteness” under the same title and description.
“I am absolutely moving forward with the class as planned,” she said. “We can’t let cyberterrorists win.”
Nereida Moreno covers education for WBEZ.