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Under fire, university amends description for anti-Trump ‘resistance’ course

Critics worry the course was instigating students to take part in resistance movements against the president. Pic: Reuters/Mike Segar.

Butler University in Indianapolis, US, is facing backlash for offering a controversial course this fall that will look at American President Donald Trump’s rise to power and even teach “strategies for resistance”, Washington Post reports.

The course titled “Trumpism & US Democracy” aims to examine Trump’s political ascendancy and where America will go from here, which isn’t particularly offensive.

But the bit that has critics in a tizz is the course description, particularly in its portrayal of the leader and its call to action.

“Donald J. Trump won the US presidency despite perpetuating sexism, white supremacy, xenophobia, nationalism, nativism, and imperialism. This course explores why and how this happened, how Trump’s rhetoric is contrary to the foundation of the US democracy, and what his win means for the future. The course will also discuss, and potentially engage in, strategies for resistance,” it reads.

The private college immediately shot to national fame after conservative news outlets picked up the course’s description. Several critics highlighted the “anti-Trump” language and its potential instigation of students in the “special topics” course to take part in resistance movements against the president.

Butler has responded to the backlash by amending the course description of Trump’s rise to presidency to a more ambiguous “political and social phenomenon”, instead of the earlier version, which said he had won America’s highest office despite “perpetuating sexism, white supremacy, xenophobia, nationalism, nativism, and imperialism”.

The updated description also says:

“The course will provide context and depth for student citizens as we look at historical and current texts by renowned authors as well as read excerpts of Trump’s own Art of the Deal”.

The bit about resistance strategies now reads:

“Students will potentially attend, as participant observers, campus and community events to witness ongoing responses to Trump’s presidency and campaign”.

Butler’s Provost and vice president for academic affairs, Kathryn Morris, noted the recent media coverage and the reaction that it spurred in a letter posted to the school’s website, but emphasised that the school is committed to a culture of critical thinking, despite how controversial a topic is.

“Just as I support this course, I would support a course that is complimentary of the president. Butler offers a variety of courses that tackle controversial topics. Like any university, Butler should — and does — promote an environment of critical inquiry and engagement on controversial and unpopular topics”.

But Morris’s letter seemed to draw the line at any course that would force its students to take part in resistance movements for school credit.

“The university would not require a student to support or oppose a particular political figure or agenda,” Morris wrote.

“The professor has been very transparent about the goals of the course and has provided additional context that clarifies students in the class will not be required to participate in a particular form of activism.”

Controversy around Butler’s course is set against a backdrop of increasing activism on American campuses, a phenomenon analysts say are caused by the changing political landscape in the country.

Recent protests against campus events featuring conservative figures as well as other political acts by students from both sides of the political divide are rekindling a nationwide debate on free speech in varsities.

Reaction to the original course description reflected these views.

One user wrote on Facebook: “Proud alum here! Thank you Butler, for once again standing up for what is right”, while another tweeted: “How about adding this course: “Bernie Sanders & the Stupidity of Socialism”.

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