Date of this Version
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2017), pp 3-15
In spring 2017, Ervin Malakaj (Assistant Professor of German) and Jeffrey L. Littlejohn (Professor of History) led a Difficult Dialogues seminar on #BlackLivesMatter for the Sam Houston State University (SHSU) Honors College. The seminar considered the complex historical, economic, and cultural forces that produced the movement along with the various responses to it. By mid-semester, however, the course had become a target for fake news blogs and websites. Critics of the #BlackLivesMatter movement attempted to portray the course as a propagandistic endeavor intended to force a left-wing ideology upon unwilling students who had reluctantly enrolled in the course in order to receive scholarship money from taxpayer funds. Media responses mischaracterized the institutional parameters governing the course as well as the course aims. Consequently, Malakaj (as the instructor of record), the SHSU Honors College, and university administrators were all contacted by various interest groups angered by the news. Donors threatened to withdraw donations to the university. Students who had been accepted for admission and had declared that they would matriculate the following fall threatened to withdraw their initial intent to attend the university. At the same time, however, the course instructors and the university received a great deal of support. We provide here an outline of the institutional parameters within which the course was offered, the pedagogical aims and content of the course, and an examination of the public and university response to the fake news story. Our goal is to offer a case study that will benefit honors colleges considering similar course programs as well as those having dealt with or anticipating negative public responses to sensitive programming.