By BRIANNA HERNANDEZ
The Arizona legislature has scrapped a proposal to punish universities and community colleges for offering ethnic studies and “social justice” courses.
After stirring up controversy and garnering national attention, the bill proposed by Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, was denied a hearing by House Education Committee chairman Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix.
Boyer confirmed that HB 2120 would not receive a hearing before his panel. The decision kills the bill for now.
The proposed legislation sought to expand upon HB 2281, a controversial Arizona ban on ethnic studies at the K-12 level.
The expansion would have financially punished universities and community colleges that “promote division, resentment or social justice toward a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class or other class of people.”
Schools that failed to comply would have lost 10 percent of their state funding.
Thorpe said he drafted the bill partly in response to a course offered by Arizona State University titled U.S. Race Theory and the Problem of Whiteness.
He also cited a University of Arizona “privilege walk” as a motivating factor.
Participants in the privilege walk are asked to take steps forward or backward, depending upon their response to questions relating to privilege and discrimination.
“Taxpayers’ resources should not be used to promote division of people in groups,” bill co-signer Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, said. “Activities like the privilege walk are just plain wrong.”
Pima Community College currently offers courses such as Introduction to Chicano Studies and Race, Ethnicity, Minority Groups and Social Justice. Both classes fall under International and Multicultural Studies.
PCC instructor Kristen Valencia, who teaches Introduction to Chicano Studies, said ethnic studies courses allow students to study differences and learn how to accept people of different ethnicities, cultures, religions, genders and classes.
“Ethnic studies courses are a beneficial source of knowledge that allow us to investigate the various cultures and ethnic groups that come in contact with one another and weave a vibrant and colorful national fabric within the United States,” she said.
Valencia said her Chicano Studies course does not teach overthrow of government and doesn’t advocate resentment toward any groups. In order to teach effectively, she added, it’s vital to provide students with a comprehensive history of all people.
PCC Vice Chancellor of External Relations Lisa Brosky stressed the importance of multicultural acceptance.
“We live and work in a global economy where an understanding and appreciation of other cultures is critical to success,” she said.
Chancellor Lee Lambert outlined efforts to make ethnic studies a more integral component at PCC during an ethnic studies forum last March.
Lambert talked about issues facing the country, state and local communities, and about how issues of race and ethnicity will take on greater importance in upcoming years.
Tucson Mayor Jonathon Rothschild also spoke at the forum.
“As everyone in the room knows, there is controversy about ethnic-studies programs,” he said.
Any bill with “Education: prohibited courses and activities” in its title is a problem, he added.
“Opponents say it encourages animosity between people of different background, or it incites people to rebel against authority,” Rothschild said. “To the first, I say, ‘nonsense.’ To the second, I say, ‘Democracy is about vibrant, challenging dialogue among different people.’”
PCC did not take a formal stance on HB 2120. However, on behalf of Lambert, Brosky said, “Pima values the academic freedom of our faculty and would actively work to protect their ability to teach courses in the manner that best presents the material.”