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What are Georgia universities teaching about White privilege? Rep. Emory Dunahoo is asking
Emory Dunahoo
Rep. Emory Dunahoo

State Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gillsville, is asking questions about what the state’s universities are teaching about white privilege.

The Republican confirmed he sent a legislative request to University System of Georgia administrators to collect information about what was being taught. He told The Times that request was in response to concerns from his constituents in District 30, which covers much of South Hall.

“I don’t proceed with business without facts. I’m also (in the Georgia House of Representatives) to represent my constituents,” he said in a Jan. 29 interview with the Times. “These questions come from my constituents in the district who want to know what’s being taught to their kids at college.”

In a Jan. 21 email sent to the presidents and provosts of 53 of the state’s colleges and universities, outgoing chancellor Steve Wrigley, at the request of Dunahoo, sent a list of three questions. Dunahoo asked administrators to confirm if they receive a “yes.” 

  • Are any classes within the Georgia public school system or the University System of Georgia teaching students that possessing certain characteristics inherently designates them as either being “privileged” or “oppressed?”

  • Are any classes within the Georgia public school system or the University System of Georgia teaching students what constitutes “privilege” and “oppression?”

  • Are any classes within the Georgia public school system or the University System of Georgia teaching students who identify as white, male, heterosexual, or Christian are intrinsically privileged and oppressive, which is defined as “malicious or unjust” and “wrong?”

Aaron Diamant, vice chancellor of communications for USG told the Times that USG administrators are “working with” Dunahoo to get him answers to the questions.

“We are a state agency and are always responsive to the elected representatives of the people of Georgia,” he said.  “We shared the questions with our campus presidents and provosts to gather the information requested by the lawmaker.

As a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, Dunahoo said he hopes to have responses to his request by next week and that the information should be an aid for discussing future budgetary action.

“As we comb through the budget on the Appropriations committee, I have a duty to ask my constituents what their priorities and concerns are,” he said. “The questions I sent to Chancellor Wrigley came from parents of my district who want to know what is being taught to their kid when they sent them away to college.”

Some local professors are raising concerns about academic freedom in response to the three-term legislator’s inquiry.

Matthew Boedy, an associate professor of rhetoric and composition at University of North Georgia in Gainesville, said the legislative request is an “attack” on higher education.

Matthew Boedy
Matthew Boedy

“It perpetrates a pernicious agenda,” Boedy said. “I don’t know why a state representative who won his district by 40 points needs to throw red meat to his base, but this echoes national conservative discourse that has been laughed from the public square by historians and other experts.”

USG has a policy regarding academic freedom, stating in 6.5 of its Board of Regent Policy Manual that “As public institutions of higher education, USG institutions must promote open ideas and academic freedom on their campuses.”

“I know that there has been data collected on this through the universities, but I don't know what the USG will do with that information,” Boedy said. “But I appreciate USG leaders who have amassed context in response to this request about these courses that show these kinds of topics are part of accredited and mandated curriculum.

For UNG professor and sociologist David Broad, he said that Dunahoo’s legislative request is a case fact denial.”

“Dunahoo is choosing to ignore the facts of how privilege and oppression in this country has worked against marginalized groups over the course of American history,” he said. “It’s clear that there’s an agenda to frame white privilege as an attack on the individual. Conversation about privilege and oppressions is never about the individual.”

Broad said that in his class discussions on the topic, he’s only observed a “small minority” of students who have rejected the conversations on white privilege.

“A large majority of students are curious about how privilege and oppression impacts them and has continued to shape much of the modern world,” he said. “Attempting to remove discussions that tackle raw truths about male privilege, white privilege from any curriculum, is a stark denial of facts.”

Dunahoo denied any claims that his request is to further an agenda, and said that he won’t come to a conclusion until he receives responses from his request.

While some professors have expressed concerns, the request has been sent to some K-12 administrators. Meghan Frick, director of communications for the Georgia Department of Education, said they have not received a request from Dunahoo regarding white privilege in their curriculum.

“At this point we have not received this request from Rep. Dunahoo or any other legislators,” she said.