Wahinya Njau (R) stands with another student protestor wearing shirts depicting State Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) as the Grim Reaper of higher education. Photo by Morgan Trau, WEWS.
Most students have Juneteenth off from classes in Ohio, but education advocates worry that a bill close to passing the Ohio Legislature would prevent them from learning why.
Juneteenth recognizes the fall of slavery in the United States, proclaiming freedom for enslaved people in Texas. But Kent State University student Wahinya Njau says that for his community, it is so much more than that.
“I think most important to highlight is the perseverance of Black Americans in this country,” Njau said.
This is why he is concerned that Senate Bill 83, which would overhaul the higher education system, would prevent students from learning the true history of the federal holiday.
The legislation bans any type of “bias” in classrooms and limits how and what kind of controversial topics can be covered, including politics and diversity.
Professors could lose their jobs if they are accused of biased teaching. Although the current version of the bill has watered-down provisions on being graded for “expression of bias,” it still requires institutions to develop a range of disciplinary measures against faculty who interfere with “intellectual diversity rights.”
“A lot of professors might decide, it’s not worth it to go into too much detail about this — ‘we’re just going to skate past it real fast and move along with our lesson’ — instead of focusing really deep on some of these issues that still permeate through our country today,” Njau said.
But consistently, all Republican lawmakers in support of the bill have argued the bill is getting blown out of proportion and that it is just meant to require intellectual diversity, or a variety of viewpoints.
“They have taken us to the point where we have such a liberal bent in our universities,” Bill sponsor Sen. Jerry Cirino (R-Kirtland) said.
Cirino explains professors should be using facts to demonstrate the history, not their own beliefs on the rights or wrongs of a topic.
“I think in an academic environment, all sides — good, the bad and the ugly — need to be talked about and discussed and debated,” Cirino told OCJ/WEWS.
The idea that there are “two sides” in certain historical events, like slavery and the Holocaust, is insulting, Njau responded.
“Having a discussion where you’re elevating voices that were pro-slavery on the same level as the voices who were against slavery, that’s not even whitewashing history,” the student said. “It is just a complete disinformation campaign to try to absolve certain people of the sin of slavery.”
The bill was actually just slid into the Senate budget, which subsequently passed after Njau and fellow students protested. It would still need to be concurred by the House, but this is a way to fast-track it.
It is unlikely the House will vote to concur, but that will be found out Wednesday.
This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.
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