Police Presence Planned for Start of 'White Racism' Class
When a "White Racism" class meets Tuesday at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), at least two campus police officers will be on guard as a precaution.
Today marks the start of the spring semester at FGCU, and Tuesday will be the first time the class meets. The course has caused controversy due to its name and garnered national media attention.
"We have prepared for any possible distractions related to Tuesday's first class of the White Racism course, but we are expecting normal campus civility as our students engage in this and other courses at the spring semester's start," Susan Evans, FGCU's spokeswoman and chief of staff, said in an email.
Ted Thornhill, the assistant professor of sociology who will teach the class, said he received some disturbing emails and voicemails after news of the class spread. He also said a couple of students enrolled in the class talked to him about safety concerns.
"I think most of us don't anticipate there being any unrest or protest or anything like that," Thornhill said. "But it's more of a prudent measure to have law enforcement present just in case."
Sociology major Ché Hall, 20, is one of the 50 students signed up to take the course. She said she has heard chatter about students showing up on the first day of class just to see if others cause problems, but it's not something she is too concerned about.
"I think a lot of people who said that they would come to start issues are just saying that and won't actually come," she said.
A security plan was put in place after Thornhill, FGCU President Mike Martin and others met in December. Thornhill wouldn't say if the police presence will continue throughout the semester.
"I don't think that we would share many of those details for individuals who have negative intentions," he said.
"I think that we will be safe and that students don't have anything to worry about except for completing their reading and doing their work and engaging with the material."
FGCU Police Chief Steven Moore wouldn't comment on the plan.
Thornhill said he started getting the emails and voice messages as word about the class spread through news stories and on social media.
The course will cover everything from ways to challenge white supremacy to the ideologies, laws, policies and practices in this country that have allowed for "white racial domination over those racialized as non-white," according to a course description.
Some of the emails and calls Thornhill received were from people who simply expressed disappointment about FGCU offering the class and challenged the course's validity. Others expressed their views with foul language, called Thornhill a racist and referred to him using the n-word.
"The number of emails I got pales in comparison to the thousands and thousands of comments and post on all manner of social media and traditional media outlet websites that said things that were unspeakable," he said.
Thornhill sent FGCU police 46 pages of emails and some voicemails that were left for him regarding the course. Thornhill said he sent the emails and voice messages to police out of an abundance of caution.
"I can call a black man a (n-word) when it's appropriate, and I do," one of the callers said. "I am not ashamed of it. It doesn't make me a racist. If Jay-Z can say it and a black man can say it, I can say it."
None of the emailers or callers threatened any violence or to disrupt Thornhill's class, but a few writers did wish ill will upon him.
"Cancer (Stage 4) is what you and your family deserve for spreading hate, lies & intolerance," an emailer wrote.
Thornhill said some people's reaction to the course have been "upsetting but perhaps not entirely surprising given the nature of these more rabid white racists."
"I take these type of things seriously just like when people were writing racist things on the whiteboard and then posting things around campus," he said. "You never know what people are thinking and what they might be capable of. It's good to be cautious."