CASPER – The University of Wyoming Black Studies Center will hold a virtual symposium July 2 called “What to the Slave’s Children is the Fourth of July?” focused on anti-racist education and the national debate around teaching critical race theory in American schools.
The virtual event draws national scholars from Columbia University, the University of Chicago, San Francisco State University and more “to deconstruct the phenomenon of current exclusionary educational policies in America” through the lens of the Frederick Douglass speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”
After the one-day event, the Black Studies Center will host a month-long, virtual book study on Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to be an Antiracist,” which will begin July 8.
“We thought that providing a culturally competent forum series would indeed dovetail and enhance some of the things that we have already been able to do,” the center’s director Fredrick Douglass Dixon explained.
The center formed about a year ago, after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
As one of few such centers in a rural area, UW’s Black Studies Center has a responsibility to contribute to the national discourse, Dixon said, which is why he believes virtual programs that allow for national participation are so important.
“We are very intentional about that responsibility and we think that the more and more that we continue to provide these platforms, the more Black studies in rural areas ... it shows its worth,” he said.
The event will begin at 9 a.m. July 2 with a discussion on “Deconstruction of the Neoconservative Movement to Erase Critical Race Theory from Public Education,” followed by a conversation about “Strategies to Teach the Harsh Realities of American History.”
Panelists for each of those discussions include law and history professors, higher education equity and inclusion experts and social researchers from across the U.S.
The program comes as lawmakers nationwide, including one of Wyoming’s own, are attempting to block the use of federal dollars to teach a history curriculum derived from the New York Times’ 1619 Project.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning work reports on how slavery shaped American history. Named for the year African enslaved people first arrived in North America, the 1619 Project received both acclaim and criticism, and its accuracy has been debated by conservatives and some historians since it was published in 2019.
The U.S. Department of Education referenced that work in April when announcing a proposed grant for educators to teach “racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives,” a step that has seemingly reignited the debate.
Republican lawmakers, including Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, have decried the proposal and “critical race theory” more broadly.
Balow last month issued a statement calling the proposal “an attempt to normalize teaching controversial and politically trendy theories about America’s history.”
Some Republican-held states are also pursuing legislation to keep public money out of schools that wish to teach the 1619 curriculum.
A handful of federal lawmakers are hoping to do the same.
Wyoming junior Sen. Cynthia Lummis on Monday signed onto the “Saving American History Act,” which would prohibit the use of federal funds to teach the 1619 project curriculum in K-12 schools.
“Students and teachers should have an open and honest dialogue in the classroom about our nation’s history,” Lummis said in a statement. “However, the 1619 Project is pushing an anti-American agenda and distorted, revisionist history with hard-earned taxpayer dollars. I’m pleased to join my colleagues in opposing this waste of federal money.”
Dixon said this national focus is exactly why the Black Studies Center should be having the conversation.
“I think that any time there’s a socio-educational, political phenomenon, then higher ed and particularly a research center should find that important,” Dixon said. “The conversation is important now because it’s in legislation. … It’s in the common vernacular of American society right now. So to have that conversation, it’s only what we should do.”
The one-day virtual symposium is free and open to anyone, but participants are asked to RSVP with Dixon at [email protected]. Those interested in the book study can register online. The group will meet virtually at 10 a.m. each Thursday between July 8 and Aug. 5.