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Classroom Censorship Comes to the University of Oklahoma

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Campus of the University of Oklahoma in Norman. (University of Oklahoma/Facebook) An on-campus workshop instructed faculty in how to suppress unwelcome speech.

Late last month, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) obtained a video recording of an “Anti-Racist Rhetoric and Pedagogies” workshop that was presented to faculty in the English Department at the University of Oklahoma. Originally held in April 2021, this hour-long workshop was intended to teach instructors how to eliminate racist comments and shut down unwanted speech in the classroom without fear of administrative repercussions. The tactics and guidelines set down in the workshop are so broad that they threaten basically any speech that those who might apply them dislike.

Assistant teaching professor Kelli Alvarez led a presentation titled “Setting an Anti-Racist Tone,” in which she describes the expectations she sets for her classes each semester. In her class, students are to avoid “derogatory remarks, critiques, and hate speech” in the classroom and in their writing (18:10). She also has her students read “When Free Speech Becomes Unfree” by Ibram X. Kendi. According to Alvarez, the premise of the article is that “there’s no such thing as free speech” and that someone is paying for what we say, emotionally and physically.

In the workshop, Alvarez continued with the false claim that hate speech is not protected by the Constitution, and failed to cite any Supreme Court case that supports this argument. Instead, she encouraged instructors to tell their students, “No, you don’t have the right to say that. Stop talking right now.” She maintained that students can and should disagree with one another. But if their disagreement is “rooted in the oppression and denial of humanity and someone’s right to exist,” it is not allowed. That would be denying someone “their basic human rights” and “human dignity,” which is “not conducive or productive.”

Alvarez uses a guilt tactic in her classroom to express her stance on hate speech to get students to comply with her expectations. “When we frame it this way, if they wanted to push back against that, what’s

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