Review of “Anti-Critical Race Theory Movement in Postsecondary Education: Faculty Expectations Confronting Emotionalities of Whiteness”
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a controversial movement that surfaces various arguments within primary, secondary, and higher educational contexts. CRT is often misunderstood and disdained by audiences who lack proper knowledge of the movement and reside in their ignorance and refusal to learn more about its relevance. Several tenets makeup the movement of CRT, including: 1) Centrality of Race and Racism/Racial Realism, 2) Interest Convergence, 3) Social Construction Thesis, 4) Intersectionality and Antiessentialism, and 5) Voice and Storytelling (Lynn & Dixson, 2021; Delgado & Stefancic, 2017; Ladson-Billings, 1998; Howard & Navarro, 2016). These tenets underscore various forms of systemic racism and oppression while providing space for counternarratives and tangible solutions to heal social and racial injustices. Unfortunately, CRT is not always welcomed in school systems, and higher education is no exception. Scholars have assumed responsibility for highlighting CRT within the academy, specifically exploring how anti-CRT belief systems are manifested in the classroom.
Daniel Liou and Raquel Alvara (2021) conducted a self-narrativization study that explored how students interact with coursework focused on CRT and its relation to White emotionality regarding anti-CRT discourses within an online classroom context with educational administrators. This study revealed the damaging effects of internalizing anti-CRT belief systems while showing how oppressive systems continue to be maintained despite rigorous efforts of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) initiatives. It is essential to critically analyze scholarship on anti-CRT topical areas if tangible changes to oppression and racial justice are to be made.
In this paper, I will review Liou and Alvara’s article by providing contextual background information on the literature, highlighting key concepts and themes, sharing critiques, and offering implications for future research and practice.
Rationale and Positionality
Prior to discussing Liou and Alvara’s (2021) scholarship, it is essential that I share my positionality and reasons for reviewing this particular article.
I identify as a first-generation, Black woman doctoral student. I have experienced the negative nuances and various systems of oppression within higher education contexts and the social world at-large. I work actively and tediously to fulfill my purpose of cultivating positivity within higher education, and I am determined to make steadfast change. I incorporate my full, authentic self into my work while remaining cognizant of my social identities and how I influence certain environments.
Liou and Alvara’s (2021) article stood out to me because it addresses the emotional processes that White people endure when being confronted and educated about racism. CRT covers multiple relevant tenets regarding how racism accentuates within society, but it fails to acknowledge the individual emotional turmoil and guilt that majoritarian populations accumulate when interacting with the movement. Liou and Alvara (2021) ensure that readers are aware of this phenomenon while surfacing various perspectives that show how colorblindness and anti-CRT are continuously cultivated within educational institutions. Furthermore, this article piqued my interest because it aligns with my current work as an Equity and Inclusion Consultant where I speak with faculty and other administrators regarding their experiences on campus while working to improve them. Unfortunately, faculty members with minoritized identities have not had the most positive experiences with students from majoritarian populations, and it is paramount that I engage with Liou and Alvara’s (2021) work to change this narrative.
Liou and Alvara (2021) opened with an anecdote of the Executive Order 13950 issued by President Donald Trump that claims, “all men are created equal.” The Executive Order was not in favor of discussing race as it “promotes discrimination” and therefore assumed anti-CRT practices. Several states within the United States passed anti-CRT laws that banned the discussion of race within primary and postsecondary school curriculum, thus inferring that anti-CRT discourses have manifested into belief systems adopted by various school systems. To explore how primary and postsecondary anti-CRT bans impacted higher education, Liou and Alvara (2021) conducted a self-narrativization study in an online classroom context in a course that was altered to focus on racism, discrimination, oppression, and underpinnings of CRT.
This study was conducted at a large research institution in Arizona with a focus of the two authors’ experiences teaching a course titled, “Family-School Partnerships” (pseudonym). The course was fully asynchronous online and consisted of 62 students total who were randomly assigned into three sections of the course. The course was designed for working educational professionals who were training to get certified as principals. Ninety percent of the participants were White and working full-time. The sections of the courses were taught by an Asian American male, Latina female, and White female respectively. Students did not complain about CRT with the White female faculty member, so the study focused on the Asian American male and Latina female faculty members.
Researchers analyzed their data on anti-CRT beliefs and emotionalities of Whiteness after gathering student engagements through online discussion forums, weekly assignments, student self-recorded videos, email correspondences with faculty, and students’ course evaluations. Additionally, the faculty members documented their credentials for teaching the course, frequency of Zoom meetings and phone calls regarding the course, and strategies to identify student needs and classroom dynamics. In short, data was analyzed from students taking the “Family-School Partnerships” course and from the faculty teaching the course.
Key Concepts and Themes
Liou and Alvara’s (2021) study consisted of several interesting findings that illuminate detriments regarding anti-CRT beliefs and discourses. For the purposes of this article review, I will discuss general and relevant findings according to themes. The three themes that emerged from the data analysis include: 1) Sense of White Victimhood, 2) Race deflections, control, and emotional detour, and 3) Faculty response to students’ ideological echo chambers.
The authors found that students began immediately rebutting the course curriculum and were opposed to the materials from the start of the semester. One author stated, “…my initial excitement immediately turned into doubts about how to move forward once students started to voice their oppositions to the curriculum, which detracted them from deeply engaging with the course content” (p. 87). One White female student reached out to the faculty members and stated that the course was based on CRT and that postsecondary education should be based on facts. These findings and commentary illustrate the authors’ points of the emotionalities of Whiteness by highlighting the discomfort students felt while engaging with CRT course curriculum.
Moreover, students were reporting issues to administrators, which caused even more friction. Some students refused to complete course assignments because the course materials did not align with their beliefs and some students believed that White people experience discrimination and racism at similar rates as minoritized groups. This is alarming considering that the students in this course were higher-level educational practitioners and administrators, who refused to engage in work that is beneficial to the students they currently serve.
In essence, the authors found that students in the online class did not agree with the CRT movement and adopted anti-CRT views. However, after the faculty members tirelessly engaged with students and provided line-by-line feedback on assignments, there was a change in perspective. Some students started to become receptive to CRT and opened their minds to understanding how racism and discrimination operates in systems. Although the authors reported much negativity and poor responses to CRT, there was some breakthrough. It is important to note that the faculty have minoritized identities and had to often fight with students to make progress within the course. But this was not evident for the White female faculty member who was also teaching the course. This observation illustrates how race is still influential even when there is a clear power dynamic (student-professor) and further justifies why CRT is needed within educational contexts.
Critiques of Article
Liou and Alvara’s (2021) article was insightful, but there are some critiques to improve the work along with strong points of consideration. This article utilized a novel methodology of self-narrativization to centralize beliefs about anti-CRT, which was interesting and could be modeled for other qualitative-focused scholars. Additionally, Liou and Alvara (2021) eloquently discussed and displayed their findings to show connections between anti-CRT beliefs and their collected data; hence making this work more comprehensive to readers.
The study was focused on a course about CRT and racial relations but having more information about the faculty members teaching the course would have been helpful. For example, including information about faculty communication with students and their specific reactions would have provided more context for why students had ill-feelings towards the course while showing how institutional administrators react to student complaints about faculty. Also, including a table of repeated behaviors from students should have been included to add more power to the argument and data findings. It would have been useful to visually see how White students react to CRT while counting their actions to avoid interacting with it.
Overall, this article was extremely helpful and relevant to higher education. It is disheartening that educational administrators training to be principals had such disdain and harsh feelings towards CRT and completely deflected away from discussing race. It is scary because these ideologies are what maintains systems of oppression and individuals in power will continue making decisions for students that are in the margins.
Implications for Future Research
Future research should look at how faculty and higher education administrators feel about CRT. It would be interesting to see this study replicated to gauge faculty and administrators instead of just students. For example, facilitating focus groups or conducting training for faculty and administrators could give researchers insight regarding internalized attitudes and biases towards CRT. Unfortunately, many faculty and administrators are the reason why students still experience racism and discrimination, so it would be relevant to explore their emotionalities of Whiteness and their attitudes towards discussing race and comfort of being able to address racial injustices
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- How can the CRT movement include emotionalities of Whiteness within its tenets?
- What can educational systems do in the hiring process to ensure that administrators are not colorblind and are not afraid of addressing racism, discrimination, and oppression?
- How can faculty be supported when addressing racism in the classroom at the discomfort of students?
- Should minoritized communities always be responsible for teaching White people about racism?
- Is it possible for White people to learn about racism and oppression without acquiring feelings of guilt, anger, or avoidance?