The University of Oregon’s student government is hoping university administrators will consider implementing critical race theory as a curriculum requirement for all undergraduate students, among a variety of priorities this year.

“I think we’ve identified this as an issue across the nation, as something that’s relevant to not only the educational value for students, but also to the wellbeing of our community,” Associated Students of UO President Isaiah Boyd told trustees Wednesday.

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Critical race theory is an advanced academic concept that shows systemic racism is inherent in American society. Recently, critics have used the term as an inaccurate catch-all to characterize lessons and policies related to race and equity.

Most of the arguments surrounding critical race theory have taken place in K-12 schools, with some states passing legislation against the academic framework. In Oregon and Southwest Washington, similar disagreements have flared at individual school districts.

Though a big focus on critical race theory is in K-12 schools, some academics have worried legislation in opposition to critical race theory could restrict the academic concept being taught in higher education as well.

Students walk across the University of Oregon campus on a rainy March day in this 2015 file photo.

Students walk across the University of Oregon campus on a rainy March day in this 2015 file photo.

Alan Sylvestre

ASUO President Boyd said the student government hopes to work on its request for a critical race theory requirement this upcoming winter term with the UO Provost’s office as well as the University Senate — UO’s version of a faculty senate, which also includes students, staff and other campus stakeholders.

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The UO Senate has been having separate discussions about critical race theory at the university, specifically in terms of academic freedom for faculty teaching it.

The senate wrote in its report to the board of trustees that it plans to vote on a motion in support of defending the right of faculty to conduct research and teach about controversial issues of race and gender, such as critical race theory.

“By passing this motion, which is one of many being considered by academic senates across the country, we will stand in solidarity with faculty at all levels of education who face explicit attempts by state legislatures, school boards, and even some Boards of Trustees, to prevent them from broaching topics that are claimed to be ‘divisive,’” UO Senate President Spike Gildea wrote in the report.

As far as creating a requirement for undergraduate students to learn about critical race theory, UO’s Office of the Provost says it is open to more conversations with student leadership.

“The University of Oregon is committed to the core belief that diversity of background, thought, and perspective is an absolute necessity for building academic excellence,” the Provost’s office said in a statement. “To that end, we continuously seek opportunities to expand scholarship of racial injustice and to raise awareness of and address systemic racism and inequities on campus. This is an ongoing endeavor.”

The Office of the Provost said the university recently updated its undergraduate core requirements focused on issues of race and inequality. That came out of a vote from the University Senate in the 2017-18 academic year.

Currently, every UO student is required to take at least one course about “Difference, Inequality and Agency” in the United States, as well as one “Global Perspective” course. However, a wide variety of classes fall under those categories, and not all of them are explicitly about racial inequity — meaning students can sidestep classes focused on race, if they wish. For example, among the “US: Difference, Inequality, Agency” courses are a contemporary art history class and a North American archaeology class.

“Increasing awareness of systemic racial inequities creates opportunity for people in power to engage in socially conscious action and decision-making within higher education,” ASUO President Boyd wrote in his report to the board.

Boyd said critical race theory will also have positive effects on UO students outside of their time at the university. He said the student government hopes to “find a way to implement that into our curriculum and kind of build up a little bit more around an issue that pertains to everyone’s lives, post-graduate and throughout their careers.”

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