WSU syllabi questioned

WSU students risk receiving poor grades if they use common descriptors considered oppressive or hateful by their professors, according to online reviews of select syllabi released last week.

Attention was drawn to the syllabi on Saturday when Campus Reform, a project of the non-partisan organization The Leadership Institute, published an article challenging language used by WSU professors.

The syllabus for Selena Lester Breikss’ Women and Popular Culture class indicated that punishment would ensue for students who repeatedly used banned words like “The Man,” “Colored People,” “Illegal/Illegal Aliens,” and “Tranny,” among others.

Punishments included removal from the class without attendance or participation points, failure of the assignment and potential failure for the semester. However, punishment would only be given after the words were used repeatedly after an initial correction in class.

The syllabus for Rebecca Fowler’s Introduction to Comparative Ethnic Studies allegedly indicates grades would suffer if the term “illegal alien” was used in assigned writing. Students were warned that one point would be removed if those words were used, and other terms such as “undocumented migrants/immigrants/persons” were recommended.

Only one of these syllabi, Breikss’, could be found online by Evergreen reporters as of Monday.

Before Peter Hasson’s article about these syllabi published on Campus Reform, the outlet reached out to the professors in question. Only one, Fowler, responded with an explanation for what her syllabus indicated.

“The term ‘illegal alien’ has permeated dominant discourses that circulate in the news to the extent that our society has come to associate all unauthorized border crossings with those immigrants originating from countries south of our border (and not with Asian immigrants, for example, many of whom are also in the country without legal documents and make up a considerable portion of undocumented immigrants living in the country),” Fowler said to Campus Reform via email.

Yesterday afternoon, The Daily Evergreen reached out to both professors, the department for critical culture, gender & race studies (CCGRS), the Director of University Communication Kathy Barnard, and Dean of Students/Interim Vice President Melynda Huskey for comments.

Breikss, Fowler and CCGRS gave no comment. Barnard was not available, and Huskey did not respond.

WSU News published a statement from WSU Interim President Dan Bernardo yesterday regarding the syllabi.

“Washington State University deeply values the tenets of freedom of expression for every member of our community, including all students, faculty and staff,” Bernardo’s statement began. “Those First Amendment rights are reinforced in our policies, procedures and practices.”

Bernardo went on to explain that WSU administration became aware that some faculty members, in the interest of fostering a constructive climate for discussions, included language in their syllabi that might be interpreted as an infringement on free speech rights.

“We are working with these faculty members to clarify, and in some cases modify, course policies to ensure that students’ free speech rights are recognized and protected,” he said. “No student will have points docked merely as a result of using terms that may be deemed offensive to some.”

Bernardo wrote that blanket restrictions on certain terms are not consistent with the founding values of WSU and that free speech is compatible with a constructive climate for learning.

In his statement, Bernardo asked all faculty members to take a moment to review their course policies to ensure the University’s values are met.