If you have a child in college, expect to see a nebulous-sounding charge added to one of his or her future tuition bills. The charge, for “landscape impact assessments,” may sound as though it has something to do with upkeep of the grounds or gardening.
It doesn’t. According to Campus Reform, three members of the faculty at the University of Tennessee have authored a paper that argues on behalf of what they call a “responsible landscape policy.” It turns out that’s code for the presence of controversial monuments on college campuses, which in their view risks doing “psychological harm” to minority students. One of the fixes for this problem is periodic “landscape impact assessments.”
Professors Jordan Brasher, Derek Alderman, and Joshua Inwood warn that campus buildings named after racist historical figures contribute to the tradition of “valorizing public figures with reputations for defending and perpetuating slavery, white supremacy, racial segregation, and disenfranchisement.” Should there be any question about which historical figures they have in mind, think Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, George Washington(!), or just about any other dead white man.
These commemorated individuals can serve as a ‘hidden curriculum’ that gives sometimes subtle, but often times overt clues about who belongs and whose histories are important to the development of the university and its identity.
Just to put this “scholarship” in context, the professors’ paper is titled “Applying Critical Race and Memory Studies to University Place Naming Controversies.” Critical race theory, developed in the 1980s, takes a dim view of the commitment of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King’s to “color blindness” and intentional discrimination, focusing instead on “unseen” manifestations of racism: “dog whistles,” if you will. Derrick Bell, a founder of the theory, was a mentor of Barack Obama when he attended Harvard Law School.