LETTER TO THE EDITOR: President Trump’s executive order cuts into the core of American education

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Sept. 22 that banned all federally funded institutions, including Marquette University from discussing topics related to racial inequality, gender inequality or anti-racism. Any institution that continues to discuss or teach these “un-American” topics in official programming will lose federal funding. In the interest of protecting federal funds coming in to allow the university to function and allow students to pay for a Marquette education, Marquette University will follow the protocols laid out in the order. This executive order has several implications across the university, as most of the work Marquette has done to be an ally in the fight for racial equality must now be censored or deleted. However, the true effects of this order expand beyond Marquette and cut into the core of American education, freedom of religion and democracy.

Education cannot work without conversation. Trump’s claims show the importance of learning history, even when it is uncomfortable. Trump says that the idea that America could be, at its core, racially or sexually discriminative “is grounded in misrepresentations of our country’s history and its role in the world.”

American history has rarely been kind to women or people of color. Despite the country officially being established in 1776, women were not allowed to own property until 1848 (72 years later), not allowed to vote until 1920 (144 years later) and still experience gaps in wage equality. Native Americans were forced off their land and subjected to disease and genocide that killed 90% of the population. Those who survived were often forcibly separated from their families to attend boarding schools that stripped them off their identity and culture. Languages, stories and religions hundreds of years in the making were lost forever.

African Americans were brought to this country as slaves, and even after slavery was abolished spent years under oppressive Jim Crow laws. They had to fight for equality. The fight continues today, as Black people who pose no threat are three times as likely as white people to be fatally shot by a police officer. Saying that American history has always followed the “inherent and equal dignity of every person as an individual” is a lie.

Structural racism exists in this country and barring us from learning about it doesn’t make it go away, it makes us more ignorant. Trump cites several acclaimed federal institutions, including the Smithsonian, that have been “infected” with the messages that teaching people about the reality of race inequality is “contrary to the fundamental premises underpinning our Republic: that all individuals are created equal and should be allowed an equal opportunity under the law to pursue happiness and prosper based on individual merit.” What he’s missing is that the point of understanding racial inequality is understanding that the promises made by our Republic are not being realized and that our responsibility as members of this Republic is to work toward changing those inequalities in order to make America great.

Faith cannot work without justice. Because of the order, Catholic social teaching about racial inequality from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is no longer allowed to be taught at Marquette University.

Freedom of religion means the ability to practice any religion to its fullest extent. Banning part of the practice or education of a religion because it makes people “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex” is unconstitutional. Seeing other people face injustices we don’t as a Caucasian race is supposed to make us uncomfortable. Catholic Scripture makes many calls to action, two of them being 1 John 3:17-18: “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” and Proverbs 29:7: “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”

God Himself became human through Jesus Christ, not only to save us, but to understand us. Seeing the struggles of human existence must have made him feel anguish, discomfort and maybe even guilt, but He knew that the only way to understand someone is to learn their reality, no matter how uncomfortable it is. God would not want us, as white people, to stand by in the struggle for racial equality. He would want us to be like Himself and fully immerse ourselves into understanding the struggles of our brothers and sisters of color in order to be allies in the fight for justice, no matter how much psychological distress it brings.

Democracy cannot work without debate. Claiming that the discussion on race “(is) designed to divide us and to prevent us from uniting as one people in pursuit of one common destiny for our great country,” simply because the conversation makes those who benefit from structural racism uncomfortable misses the point of the conversation.

The only reason the race discussion has divided the country is because people who benefit from a system of oppression have a hard time grappling with that knowledge. Facing this reality would make anyone uncomfortable, so many choose to deny the existence of inequality. This reaction does nothing to stop the problem and creates a divide between people who want to see America become the nation of freedom and equality it was meant to be, and those who choose to tell themselves it already is. Without the ability to educate and convince the latter group that change and the promotion of equality is good, the divide will only grow larger.

Patriotism cannot exist by turning a blind eye to a nation’s flaws. Instead, we must love this country enough to want it to be better and truly live up to the promise of “liberty and justice for all.” We cannot get there by ignoring the injustice of racial inequality.

This story was written by Katie Robertson, a Marquette student who volunteered to write this letter. She is not a staff member for the Wire. She can be reached at katherine.robertson@marquette.edu.

To submit a letter to the editor, email Executive Opinions Editor Alex Garner at alexandra.garner@marquette.edu and copy Managing Editor of the Marquette Tribune Annie Mattea and Executive Director Natallie St. Onge on those emails. They can be reached at anne.mattea@marquette.edu and natallie.stonge@marquette.edu.