Are Critical Race Theory Bans Targeting Women of Color Scholars?

Historians in the News
tags: culture war, womens history, critical race theory

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Chair of American Studies and a professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.

Marcela Rodrigues-Sherley is a writer, organizer, and recent Smith College graduate. To learn more, follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

In late 2020, the Idaho Freedom Foundation released two reports condemning college administrators and faculty at the University of Idaho and Boise State for promoting “social justice ideology” in higher education.

Using red, yellow and green color-coding, the reports labeled academic departments as “indoctrination majors,” “social justice in training majors,” and the foundation’s preferred “professional majors” depending on how much they emphasized social justice. The list of “indoctrination majors” included women’s, gender and sexuality studies (WGSS), Africana Studies and Latin American Studies.

Not long after, Idaho enacted a ban on teaching “critical race theory” (CRT) in public schools and universities in the state.

CRT is a legal framework developed in the 1970s and 1980s to examine the ongoing effects of slavery and how racism has shaped U.S. laws and institutions. But Idaho lawmakers used the phrase to refer to discussions of racism, sexism and social justice issues in the classroom. After the Idaho legislature passed the ban on CRT, the lieutenant governor created a task force to review university programs and faculty syllabi for banned content.

“It’s a pretty intimidating environment for teaching,” said Leontina Hormel, a sociology professor and former director of the WGSS program at the University of Idaho. “They’ve really created a hostile environment for open thinking.”

The current WGSS co-director and English professor Alexandra Teague told Ms., “I’ve heard a lot of conversations among faculty who are concerned about whether there will be ramifications for their teaching or whether they need to rethink what classes are titled in order to reduce scrutiny on them.”

The Idaho ban is part of a conservative wave of bans on discussing social justice issues in American schools and workplaces.


Smith College professor Loretta Ross argues that while conservative commentators and lawmakers bemoan cancel culture and the supposed liberal threats to free speech on campus, they are at the same time trying to shut down discussions about inequality and injustice in American society.

“The Republicans falsely claim that the purpose of critical race theory is to teach people of color to hate white people. They believe that white people are the real victims of reverse racism,” said Ross. “The attack on critical race theory says we should only teach patriotic education. In other words, only white history should be taught.”

Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead, associate professor of WGSS at Loyola University and president of the National Women’s Studies Association, says CRT has become a catchphrase for any discussion of how race, class and gender function in society.

“I think people confuse critical race theory with culturally responsive teaching. Both of them are CRTs,” said Whitehead.


Another impact of anti-CRT laws is they can further encourage harassment experienced by faculty who teach racial and gender justice courses.

“I have two people who stalk my email,” said Professor Katie Blevins, a WGSS co-director at the University of Idaho. “I have never met these people. They send me deeply disturbing messages a couple of times a week—you know, incredibly graphic emails. It’s disconcerting as a junior female faculty member.”

Read entire article at Ms.

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