UNH reacts to HB2 regulations on teaching race

Teddy Tauscher

With language prohibiting certain ideas from being taught in public schools in place, HB2 passed this summer and was signed into law by Gov. Chris Sununu. Most University of New Hampshire (UNH) classrooms will not be affected by any language in the law due to a provision that exempts faculty in the New Hampshire university and community college system.  They are protected from anything that would restrict their academic freedom “to conduct research, publish, lecture, or teach in the academic setting.” But, the bill’s effect on diversity training at UNH remains uncertain.  

But what exactly does the bill ban? 

Among other things, the bill prohibits the teaching that one race is superior or that by being part of one race someone is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.  

The bill also protects public employees who choose to opt out of training that violates the tenants of the bill. 

According to Seacoast Online, absent from the Bill, said Gov. Sununu’s Spokesperson, Ben Vihstadt is any language on “divisive concepts.” Divisive concepts were previously defined in New Hampshire House Bill 544 as assertions that the United States or New Hampshire were “fundamentally racist or sexist” or “that by virtue of his or her race or sex, members of any race are inherently racist or are inherently inclined to oppress others, or that members of a sex are inherently sexist or inclined to oppress others.”  

Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President Nadine Petty said that the law may make open discussion more difficult. “Some participants who are aware of HB2 have expressed reservations about asking organic questions during training, which of course then stifles the learning process. Also, some facilitators are concerned about inadvertently saying something that might be misconstrued by participants,” Petty explained.  

However, Petty said there was nothing there that HB2 wouldn’t impede the work of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) office.  

She also added that the UNH’s training doesn’t say any person belonging to any demographic is inherently bad, but instead focuses  on systems and conditions. 

While the bill won’t affect UNH classes directly, UNH English professor Monica Chiu worries the bill may have future ramifications in her classroom. “My question is this: what will my future students, educated in K-12 under HB2, be ready to discuss (or not) in my UNH courses, say in Asian American literature (note recent violence against Asian Americans) or the English department’s survey of American Literature? What territory might I need to cover that I don’t have to know? How will that negatively impact not only my classroom, but students’ entire education?” said Chiu. 

Chiu also thinks the bill may impact the decision of whether or not to add a new discovery course requirement. “How will it affect curricular proposals at UNH to require a first-year Discovery course in race and social justice or a similar course, under faculty discussion, required for students in COLA? As these conversations have been afoot for some time, not only after HB2’s passing, there is and has been urgency to address challenges around race and social justice,” said Chiu.