University officials are fighting off a false news story from “Fox and Friends” and the Daily Caller accusing the Sam Houston State Honors College of “paying” students to take a Black Lives Matter courses.
The Daily Caller originally published the article at 10:46 p.m. on March 5 that the Honors College was paying students to take classes on the Black Lives Matter movement and on White Privilege. Fox News grabbed the story and ran it on their morning show “Fox and Friends”. The report is false.
“We were very dismayed that a news source would print a story so negative without ever checking the facts. No one was contacted, no one was consulted, no one was asked if that was true,” said Dr. Richard Eglsaer, University Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs.
The facts are that the Elliot T. Bowers Honors College on Campus provides a scholarship to every student who is a member. Those members are required take six honors courses and two honors seminars.
There are almost a dozen seminars offered every semester to members of the honors college, so most members of the college will never have a course on the movement, and no students are forced to take the class to maintain their scholarships.
Dr. Eglsaer has served at the University for 34 years, and over his tenure has served as director of the University Honors College.
“One of the things that concerned me, from a personal standpoint, was that the course they were complaining about most was a course on difficult dialogues,” Dr. Eglsaer. “If our goal is to prepare people to become effective citizens, what’s more important than being able to talk about difficult subjects in an educated fashion?”
The course on the Black Lives Matter movement is one of the college’s “Difficult Dialogues”, classes designed to approach topics charged with political, racial and social energy.
“Our goal is not to ‘brainwash them’, or tell them that this is way to think.” Dr. Eglsaer said.
An official statement from the Provost office at Sam Houston was published after the release of the Daily Caller article stating that student are not required to take the course or receive money for doing so.
“No honor students are paid to take any classes or given scholarships to attend a particular course, the seminars mentioned in the media are optional and not required,” said the released statement. “Seven to eight seminar classes covering a number of topics are offered each semester and are limited to 25 students. Students can choose the seminar they wish to attend and must complete two over the course of their degree in order to graduate with honors.”
This course is offered to Sam students due to the importance of teaching students to listen to opposing points of views and acknowledge their view on the topic.
“Our job is to say that if this society is to be effective, we have to be able to listen to someone who’s point of view we completely disagree with but we acknowledge their right to have that point of view.” Dr. Eglsaer said.
Dr. Eglsaer acknowledges the difficulty of the task, but points to the purpose of higher education as a tool to assist students in learning critical thinking skills.
“We also realize that it’s very important for us, without having to change our minds, to realize why that other person is taking that point of view. Those are life skills which we think are essential to being an effective citizen in our society,” Dr. Eglsaer said.
The Course Itself
The Black Lives Matter Seminar is being offered this semester and will be followed next semester by another ‘Difficult Dialogues’ seminar on Understanding Whiteness.
The Understanding Whiteness course is going to be taught by a pair of professors in the Department of Education Leadership, Associate Professor Dr. Rebecca Bustamante and Assistant Professor Dr. Paul Eaton.
“Both SHSU as a whole and the Honors College hold students and faculty to high academic standards and encourage students to develop their full potential as informed, critical thinkers and engaged community scholars. These special seminars on BLM and understanding whiteness offer students a unique opportunity to explore contemporary issues in depth,” said Dr. Bustamante. “By taking these courses, students can sharpen their abilities to view situations through multiple perspectives and acquire knowledge that can enrich their ability make informed decisions as citizens and future leaders.”
Dr. Eaton further explains the importance of the two courses being taught at Sam.
“Courses such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Understanding Whiteness’ center in our curriculum and university the ongoing need to discuss race and racism – which historically and contemporaneously continue to shape people’s lived experiences in the United States and around the world,” said Dr. Eaton.
Fox News pulled the report from the Daily Caller, a website whose validity is called into question regularly by organizations dedicated to maintaining integrity in journalism.
The author of the article was Rob Shimshock. He is a recent college graduate who has contributed to other right wing news agencies such as Brietbart, and has interned at the Charles Koch institute.
Shimshock has previously worked at satirical papers, and contributed falsified news stories throughout the presidential campaign.
“One of the things we want people to realize, when we say we want them to be media literate, is to find out who benefits from the information who gets out there,” said Dr. Alex Avila, a visiting professor in Sam Houston’s Mass Communications Department. “Too many people don’t look beyond the headlines and the ledes.”
The Daily Caller isn’t the only site that has been using a combination of social media and rapid news cycles to create sensationalist news for economic gain.
“There are people whose job it is to make fake news,” Dr. Avila said. “There are economic reasons that drive this, clicks that translate to dollars.”
For anyone engaging with the news Dr. Avila had advice to help distinguish between legitimate information and falsified stories.
“Go beyond the headlines, and go beyond the lede. The lede is just the first couple of sentences, but it captures your attention. Those who are doing this know how to write in newspaper style,” Dr. Avila said. “Check the source.”