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New Iowa State University art course to emphasize ‘critical whiteness’

A new one-credit art course at Iowa State University will “talk about white privilege” and “emphasize critical whiteness.”

“Diversity in Art,” taught by Women’s and Gender Studies teaching assistant Nancy Gebhart, also will cover “how white people […] profit off of the stories of marginalized people,” reports the Iowa State Daily

The course begins March 9 and can serve to satisfy the university’s U.S. Diversity requirement.

According to the report, the class will be discussion-based and have no (art) assignments. It will “impact critical thinking and cultural empathy and work towards the intersectionality of art and how it implements diversity and social justice.”

Gebhart said inspiration for the course came from a 2015 campus incident in which ISU students protesting a visit by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump “had their banners broken” by Trump-supporting students.

“Many students were talking about the lack of representation of students of color on the art on campus, and the only representation that they had was in a tokenized way,” Gebhart said.

From the story:

This course highlights many artists who are against oppression and advocates for equality, such as Brenda Jones, a university professor in art and visual culture. Students can work with local artists in the community to create an environment that allows people to advocate for social justice.

“Having them meet artists who are on campus and live in Iowa who create art to talk about oppression is important, and to create a course on campus that inquires about artwork to be shown on campus that will address the lack of diversity and representation,” Gebhart said.

One of the important features students will be able to take away from this course is to understand the underlying messages and how it is affecting one’s interpretation about what they are seeing, Gebhart said. The intention is to teach students how to build cultural empathy.

There may be a slight issue with Gebhart’s version of her course’s genesis: According to the Daily (and covered by The Fix), there was one anti-Trump banner torn down by one individual — who was not a student. And the culprit ended up apologizing for her actions.

Meanwhile, a recent art exhibit at Purdue University featured a theme similar to Gebhart’s class. One super-senior’s project under the theme “Gender and Privilege” featured “monochromatic photographs of college students posing with urinals.” The student artist said “I have a friend who’s [gender] transitioning right now and listening to them talk about the bathroom controversy made me want to cover it.”

The project won first place in its category.

Read the Daily story.

MORE: Teacher tells student his ‘Confederate’ art project ‘promotes racism’

MORE: Students build teepee for art class; outcry prompts removal

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.