Senator Stephen Nass said he would rethink funding to the university after learning that a particular class was teaching students about racism with an article he deemed inappropriate.
The class at the centre of the issue is a sociology module called “How Race & Ethnicity Shape American Social Life”, which is taught by award-winning instructor Jason Nolen, who has run the class five times.
On the reading list for the class is a now out-of-print article from Canadian magazine Fab entitled “Not Just A Preference”, which looks at racist language on gay dating app Grindr.
The article talks about racism encountered on Grindr, the author speaking about being “confronted” with a list of sexual preferences such as: “no fats; no femmes; no Asians; no blacks; masc only; my age or younger; str8-acting, you be too; non-scene; and on and on. What we find is a lot hate when all we want is head.”
The use of the text is designed to spark conversation about racism, and broaden students’ awareness of the issue in different social contexts.
UW-Madison’s Sociology Department chairwoman, Pamela Oliver, said the article: “Appropriately pushes boundaries in order to spark discussion. Among adult college students, analysing how people talk about sexuality is considered appropriate material.”
The lecturer, Jason Nolen, also highlighted the class’s controversial content in the syllabus and had warned students about the content before embarking on the lessons.
But after being forwarded the assignment by a student in the class, Senator Nass sent a letter to the university, demanding that the topic not be taught again, and the article in question be taken off the reading list.
In the letter, obtained by The Advocate, Nass wrote: “The essay in question analyzes the terminology used by gay men in describing their sexual wish-lists on ‘hookup’ or dating sites. The essay contains vulgar, obscene and racist language.”
He also stated that the university’s funding for next year would be evaluated based on their response to his letter.
In an official statement responding to Senator Nass, Pamela Oliver supported her colleague’s decision to include the article in the class content.
In her response, Oliver also quoted a message from Nolen in the syllabus, which read: “I expect you to participate in lecture, discussion section, and independently with your peers through a variety of course requirements.
“Most people have not had much practice talking about race and ethnicity, and some of the topics we will explore are controversial.”
He goes on to acknowledge that topics can be uncomfortable for students, and that all members of the class should be vigilant and aware of their words and try not to take the words of others personally.
It has not yet been revealed how Nass has responded to the University’s justification of the use of the article.