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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Students, faculty defend UF 'Black Horror, White Terror' class despite backlash

Fox News, DeSantis’ spokesperson attack African-American studies class

Director Jordan Peele’s box office hit film Get Out brought race relations to the forefront of American conversation in 2017. Now, a UF African American studies course uses the film to examine the context of Black horror and white terror.

After Fox News published a May 8 article about the course, the department faces national criticism for the required books and materials.

UF professor Julia Mollenthiel teaches the course, titled Black Horror, White Terror. 

In the class, students examine literary and artistic horror by Black artists and other works that discuss race relations, according to Mollenthiel’s syllabus. Students analyze literature and films such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time and D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. 

Mollenthiel also teaches the courses Black Women Transatlantic and African American Cinema and Literature. The University of Miami awarded her the American Council of Learned Societies Leading Edge Fellowship for contributing to meaningful social justice projects in 2021.

The Alligator emailed Mollenthiel for comment. As of May 14, she hasn’t responded.

Gov. Ron DeSantis' press secretary Bryan Griffin told Fox News Digital that discrimination will not be tolerated in Florida.

"Without knowing the specifics of this particular course … universally: no disclaimer will make discrimination permissible,” Griffin said. "These things will be cut off and wither on the vine in Florida."

This attack from the state follows Florida’s most recent legislative season focused on eliminating classes based on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Bills such as the Stop W.O.K.E. Act (House Bill 7) and House Bill 999 put whole departments and majors that focus on diversity, equity and inclusion at risk of being removed from all state universities. 

Courses that promote discussion about cultural and racial identity have faced criticism from Gov. DeSantis. The bills aim to prevent discussion surrounding controversial topics, such as critical race theory. 

Critical race theory refers to examining social movements and systems of oppression, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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Members of the UF community are concerned about the potential erasure of programs that provide them with a safe space. 

UF history professor Paul Ortiz teaches a course on African American history. Ortiz believes students are excited to take UF courses like Black Horror, White Terror, he said. 

“Film and literature courses on Black horror are being taught in our peer universities across the country,” Ortiz said. “Our students deserve to have access to the same types of courses taught in the Ivy Leagues.” 

The genre of Black horror novels and films is worthy of scholarly attention given its explosive popularity, he said.

Paulina Trujillo, the public relations director of UF College Democrats, and her organization stand with academic freedom, she said.

Legislation like HB 999 and the Stop W.O.K.E. Act focus on creating cultural wars, and further restricts the teaching of African American history, Trujillo said. 

“Removing a UF course such as Black Horror, White Terror emphasizes the denial of existing systemic racism and oppression,” Trujillo said.

UF professors and students should be able to study and examine the Black experience from critical lenses without attacks from the Florida legislature, she said.

Students at other Florida universities also find issue with Florida’s recent legislation regarding higher education. 

Elijah Keila, a University of South Florida senior and director of coordination for Stand for Freedom, believes criticisms of classes like Black Horror, White Terror often focus on the idea that the classes are going to radicalize youth into extremist positions, they said.

Stand for Freedom works with UF organizations such as Gators for Gender Affirming Care and UF College Democrats.

“Access to education like this does not radicalize anybody,” Keila said. 

This class forces students to consider truths, opinions and ideas outside of their comfort zone, and is exactly what universities are meant to do, Keila said. 

Cat Margaux, USF senior director of communications for Stand for Freedom, believes the course is just one of many that might be stripped from our college system, they said. 

“At the core, this is an act of silencing marginalized voices,” Margaux said. “There need to be spaces where people can be educated on and discuss the ways that black people have faced oppression, whether out in the open or hidden within the nooks and crannies of white people’s actions.” 

Without classes like this one, students lose the opportunity to see new perspectives, consider new truths, and have their realities challenged, Margaux said.

“At the end of the day, classes like these leave us with the choice to either adopt ideas or leave them behind.” 

Contact Vivienne at Follow her on Twitter @vivienneserret.

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Vivienne Serret

Vivienne Serret is a UF journalism and criminology senior, reporting for The Alligator's university desk as the student government reporter and managing editor for The Florida Political Review. She loves debating, lifting at the gym and singing.

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