History department brings critical race theory conversations to campus

Published by Sophia Bills, Date: February 5, 2023
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As a part of Slippery Rock University’s Black History Month programming, the history department is hosting an event to dive into a currently controversial topic on many’s tongues: critical race theory. The academic panel discussion on critical race theory comes to SRU on Feb. 14 at 12:30 p.m. in the Smith Student Center Theater.

Melissa Ford, associate professor of history with a specialty in African American history, organized the event to educate the community on the past and present of a frequently discussed issue popping up in headlines and legislation all over the country.

“This is an event to inform,” Ford said. “As an educator, that is my ultimate goal here at Slippery Rock: to educate in the classroom and outside.”

The panel, which includes Ford, combines the expertise of multiple departments and consists of professors of history, political science and education, as well as a current senior student.

Political science professors Heather Frederick and Cheryl Kerchis will talk about critical race theory but within their own fields of expertise. Frederick will focus on critical race theory in the eyes of the law, while Kerchis will discuss it through the lens of civil discourse, the news and social media.

Senior political science major Brooklyn Graham, president of Black Action Society, will represent the student voice on the panel.

The panel will help attendees sort through misinformation to get a better grasp of critical race theory. Ford will introduce the topic and give a brief history to put critical race theory in its historical context. Among prepared questions, attendees may submit their own inquiries on notecards.

Ford said the idea for this event came from current public discourse, which she said is often clouded with misinformation.

“I’m always trying to educate the SRU community about something they think they know,” Ford said. “For instance, we’ve done events in the past about Martin Luther King [Jr.] but beyond the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, or we did one about Rosa Parks beyond the bus…You think you know this aspect of Black history, but let’s really take a critical look at it. Let’s really think about it.”

Although SRU has never held a panel about this topic before, it has hosted events on other controversial topics, like book banning in schools and taking down confederate monuments.

The university does not teach critical race theory as if it is a legal theory, so Ford explained that there wasn’t much of a reason to discuss it on campus before it became such a “hot-button” issue.

Ford hopes that attendees become more informed citizens that are able to see headlines for what they really are.

Recent headlines mention Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ actions having to do with Black history curriculum and equity efforts in K-12 schools and universities.

Legislation that would restrict educational institutions from teaching about race was introduced in Pennsylvania in 2021. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives co-sponsors memorandum attacks critical race theory, calling it “divisive.” The bill has seen no further action.

“People need to be informed about who they’re voting for [and] and policies they are proposing,” Ford said.

Ford encourages attendees to show up with an open mind.

“Let the experts be the experts,” Ford said. “We know people have opinions, but at the end of the day, critical race theory is an academic theory, so [let] people who are experts in academia talk about it.”

A comprehensive schedule of SRU’s Black History Month events can be found on CORE.

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