“Divisive Concepts” Bill is a Disservice to Students

Pictured is Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. Tennessee law makers are moving legislation forward to ban what they call divisive concepts. The bill would require Lee’s approval in order to become law. Photo provided.

With its newly passed legislation, Tennessee is sure to become the next state to enact a law controlling how “divisive concepts” are addressed on college campuses.

Over the last year, lawmakers across the country have largely focused on the K-12 level when introducing such laws — but, as the Tennessee legislation demonstrates, proponents of “divisive concept” restrictions now have their sights set on higher education.

The bill identifies 16 divisive concepts, including the idea that Tennessee or the U.S. are “fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist,” and the idea that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.” The bill also requires that any university employee whose role is focused on promoting diversity must also work on strengthening intellectual diversity on campus.

The bill would allow students to take legal action against the university if the “divisive concepts” are taught and faculty could be at risk of losing their jobs.

This isn’t particularly surprising, but the more I let the idea stew in my brain, the more frustrated I become — especially as an active college student.

While I don’t necessarily agree with the similar legislation being passed at the K-12 level, it is at least a little understandable at that level of learning and parents wanting a say in their children’s curriculum.

The Republican lawmakers are claiming the legislation is for “the protection of the students.” However, lawmakers are forgetting one thing about the students of higher education: we are adults, and we don’t need your protection.

Academic institutions serve to educate on the raw truths of history. As students, it is important that we are challenged in our own perspectives and taught to think critically and flexibly about the implications of such concepts in today’s society. However, this piece of legislation is threatening our rights as students to learn, discuss and come to our own conclusions about these topics within classrooms.

I believe the lawmakers who have suggested this piece of legislation do genuinely care about the sanctity of truth in education, but they have been greatly misled to believe that we are being “forced” to ascribe to certain ideals.

Places of higher education — in my experience — have been a place where adults, of all ages and backgrounds, can discuss these divisive topics and explore perspectives different from their own in a safe environment. I have had my own beliefs challenged by my peers when discussing such divisive concepts in history, philosophy, English literature, sociology, and I can go on.

This bill, however, will restrict our ability as students to openly discuss such matters and will take away the opportunity for us to challenge each others’ perspectives because the educators, as well as the institutions, will fear repercussions for entertaining topics seen as divisive.

This legislation, and all those that support it, will be committing a disservice to the students and truth itself. The notion that as students  we could potentially lose the right to learn the truth about past events is insane.

What good is that education if it is based on inaccuracies and omissions? And what good is education if we’re not challenged in our beliefs?