For a recent episode of The Beacon’s podcast, “Now You Know,” two college professors with experience teaching gender studies and critical race theory spoke with Beacon staff writer Noah Hertz about what it means to teach controversial topics and what these topics really are.
The professors in the hot seats were Drs. Kathleen Nigro and Melinda Hall. Nigro is a retired gender studies professor who spent 20 years teaching English and gender studies at the University of Missouri as the director of the school’s gender studies program until her retirement in 2019. As a researcher, Nigro has focused on the Civil War era and women in Missouri, as well as gender and young adult literature.
Nowadays, Nigro lives in Daytona Beach.
Hall is an associate professor and the chair of the philosophy department at Stetson University in DeLand. She teaches courses in gender studies, ethics, feminism and philosophy.
The conversation took place while a bill, Senate Bill 266, was moving through the Florida Legislature. At the time of the podcast recording, the bill could have outright banned courses at public universities focusing on gender studies or critical race theory. The latest version of the bill, as of May 3, has looser restrictions, but, per reporting from the Tampa Bay Times, it could still put courses like the ones taught by Nigro and Hall at public universities under more scrutiny.
For the two professors, politicians determining what they can and can’t teach is frustrating.
“I’m terribly irritated by the attempt to — and it’s pretty ironic — politicize my teaching and learning space. I want to teach and learn from a space of freedom, and that involves being able to carefully weigh different ideas against each other,” Hall told The Beacon. “If someone tells me I can’t touch an idea that I previously found useful, that’s going to be extremely frustrating.”
Especially since, the two agreed, many people outside of the academic world are not even familiar with the true definition of terms like “critical race theory.”
“We teach it as a legal term. It has nothing to do with anybody telling a child that they should feel guilty because of their skin color,” Nigro explained. “It is purely an examination of the legal system and how some people are privileged and some people are not.”
The two professors also talked at length about gender studies, a field of study that has been around for decades.
“When we talk about gender studies, we talk about, ‘What is gender, and is gender really the boxes we’ve created?’” Nigro said, “or might there be other places along the spectrum where other people see themselves represented?”
To hear the full conversation click below or search for “Now You Know – A West Volusia Beacon podcast” wherever you listen to podcasts: