Purdue Backs Down on Mandatory Antiracist Training for Music Students

Purdue University / YouTube screenshot
February 9, 2021

Purdue University is walking back a policy that mandated members of a student choir group first complete a series of "diversity, equity, and inclusion" training sessions grounded in critical race theory.

The Purdue Musical Organizations, which oversees "six choral ensembles and a handbell choir," announced late last month it would require members to enroll in six antiracist training modules, according to emails reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. The course curriculum includes modules on "White Privilege, White Supremacy, and White Fragility," and "White Saviorism and How To Be A Better Ally," as well as required readings from "antiracist" academics.

Initially set to begin in February, the three-week course was delayed until March in response to pushback from students. After a Free Beacon inquiry regarding the mandate, a university spokesman said it had decided the training would now be optional.

"Purdue Musical Organizations is committed to inclusive excellence and has created a program, alongside the Purdue Office of Diversity and Inclusion, to create a learning series focused on engaging all of its members, whatever their lived experiences may be," spokesman Tim Doty said in an emailed statement. "The series will be offered beginning in March. Recognizing the stresses presented by COVID, as well as the existing commitments that many students have outside of [Purdue Musical Organizations], the series is not required, but participation is strongly encouraged."

Less than an hour later, students in the Purdue Musical Organization received a similar email from organization directors, informing them that they would no longer be required to take the class.

Some students raised concerns about taking an additional class that would not earn them course credits and interfere with their work schedules. Others voiced objections to critical race theory, which teaches that political and economic systems in the United States are inherently oppressive and racist.

Required readings for the course include antiracist scholar Ibram X. Kendi’s essay, "The American Nightmare," in which the professor argues that many Americans "have been waiting for black extinction." Students must also read chapters of antiracist writer Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and other writings on intersectionality, oppression, and the "radical act" of self-care. Students can access the readings in the organization's "Little Free Anti-Racist Library," associate director Colton Withers told students in an email.

In response to last summer's wave of racial justice and anti-police protests, various universities and K-12 public school districts directed funding to antiracist lessons and training. Those protests also inspired Withers and events coordinator Rachel Mirkin to create an antiracist training program for student musicians, Purdue senior and choir singer Bella Matthews told the Free Beacon.

In an email to students in January, Purdue Musical Organizations director William Griffel said the course was a "new and exciting direction" for the student musicians.

Not everyone shares Griffel’s enthusiasm. Logan Wheeler, a junior at Purdue, told the Free Beacon he resigned from his choral ensemble after being told he had to take the course. Wheeler said that while he supports diversity training, he believes critical race theory unravels the work of civil rights leaders.

"When I look at critical race theory, the first person I look to for guidance is the greatest civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the biggest thing he always pushed for was judging people on the contents of their character and not the color of their skin," Wheeler said. "I believe that since then the United States has been working closer to that spot."

Wheeler said a false and divisive view of the country emerged as a result of last summer's protests. "A few political leaders took the opportunity to redivide America on the basis of skin," Wheeler said. "That's what critical race theory does."

President Joe Biden has signaled his support for initiatives like Purdue's—upon assuming office in January he rescinded President Donald Trump's executive order banning federal agencies from teaching critical race theory. Miguel Cardona, Biden's pick to lead the Education Department, played an influential role in creating and mandating a critical race theory-based course for Connecticut high school students.