A group of educators and community organizers in Saratoga Springs plan to host a series of virtual forums focused on critical race theory in an attempt to counter the use of the theory as a tool of political division.
The group plans to host its first forum Oct. 5 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Zoom. The event, called “Demystifying Critical Race Theory,” will feature:
- Winston Grady-Willis, professor and founding director of Black Studies at Skidmore College
- Anthony Paul Farley, a law professor at Albany Law School
- Tina Wagle, an education professor at SUNY Empire State College
- Renata Williams, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Mercersburg Academy
The organizing group – which includes the Skidmore Black Studies program, MLK Saratoga, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at SUNY Empire and the Saratoga Educational Equity Network – hope to follow up next week’s panel with other events in November and January.
The program aims to counter a backlash to diversity and inclusion initiatives in schools across the country, which detractors have attacked as divisive and wrongly labeled critical race theory. The backlash – characterized at its core by parents expressing concern that students are being categorized and defined by race, with white students dismissed as oppressors and Black students demeaned as victims – has spread to school districts across the country and reached Saratoga Springs.
As district officials in the spring developed and discussed a new equity policy, parents and community members were bitterly divided over whether the policy was critical to repair racial disparities in education or an attempt to indoctrinate children. Scores of residents offered public comments.
While critical race theory is primarily taught to undergraduate and graduate students as one of many forms of critical analysis in evaluating legal, social and other complex issues, the theory has informed emerging approaches in education that focus on addressing longstanding disparities in academic outcomes that fall on racial lines.
Heather Reynolds, who helped organize the community forum series, said the goal was to inform the community discussion around the topic of critical race theory by actually focusing on the specifics of critical race theory.
“We are really trying to facilitate a discussion where people can learn things rather than mediate an argument, that’s the heart of where this is coming from,” Reynolds said. “If we are going to be debating the concept of critical race theory in our community, there really is a need for shared vocabulary, shared language of what critical race theory is and isn’t.”
She said next week’s forum will establish a foundational understanding of critical race theory and explore how it informs issues in education and the broader community.
Winston Grady-Willis, a professor who established the new Black Studies program at Skidmore College, helped organize the discussion series and will participate in the first one. He said while not surprised by the backlash centered around critical race theory, he was worried that it would have a chilling effect on educators and set back efforts to close academic disparities.
“One of the things we see in the national discourse is critical race theory is seen almost as a boogeyman and all of these connections to it as an ominous, pernicious movement to either brainwash young minds or to somehow challenge what it means to be seen as a citizen in this country,” he said.
Instead, he said critical race theory is an approach to examine and unearth the many ways that race impacts society.
“Critical race theory for me is part of a larger intellectual projects that seeks to look at not only structures like race, but also gender and socio-economic class, to look at them in ways that are not one-dimensional,” he said. “At the end of the day, critical race theory is about being more knowledgeable.”
Grady-Willis emphasized that race is about more than how someone looks and that critical race theory attempts to understand the many ways race connects to public policy and disparate social outcomes.
“There are connections between race and public policy, there is a legacy of inequity that’s tied to race in virtually every aspect of life in the United States, whether it’s housing, wealth generation, both mental and physical health,” he said. “We can look at the ways that race and racism really inform not only the lived realities of those that come from marginalized communities but has also impacted the lives of those who come from privileged communities.”
To register for Tuesday’s event, visit actionnetwork.org/events/crt1.
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 518-395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.