Fox News published an article Aug. 19 addressing a training video mandated for some JMU student employees. The video, which was titled “Social Justice: An Introduction,” contained messaging that the Fox News article claimed trained student employees to “recognize that people who identify as male, straight, cisgender, or Christian are ‘oppressors’ that engage in the ‘systematic subjugation of other social groups.’”
The video was hosted by Jessica Weed, coordinator for organization development in Student Activities & Involvement, and Jennifer Iwerks, assistant director for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) education and support. In the roughly 25 minute video, the two cover topics like identity, power and oppression, inclusive strategies and goals as a community. Two of the slides they presented in the video feature tables that split “privileged” agents and “oppressed” targets, along with the social identities associated with both.
On the two slides, identities including “white,” “heterosexual,” “able-bodied” and “cisgender” were placed on the privileged side of the table. Identities like “Black, Asain, Latinx,” “gay,” “disabled” and “women” and “transgender” were placed on the oppressed side of the table. In the training video, Weed asks those watching to pause and reflect on their identities and if they had thought about them before or if they were “hyper-aware” of their identities. She notes that the identities and privileges or oppression are based on a U.S. context.
“We believe that it’s a part of our jobs — of everyone’s jobs here at JMU — to make this campus a better place,” Iwerks said in the training video. “As student employees, we think this is a part of your job, too. During this training, we ask that you keep an open mind and ask honest questions and we’re gonna do the same.”
Weed explained in the training that these topics are important to student employees because social identities impact their roles and interaction with others.
According to the Fox News article, student employees were told not to share the video with others once their training was completed. Since the article was released, many have taken to social media to comment on their opinions about the training video. Virginia Senator Mark Obenshain (R) commented on the training in a tweet while Virginia House Delegate for the 26th District Tony Wilt (R) made an email statement about the matter.
“Liberals love to assert that [critical race theory] is just made-up conservative propaganda,” Obenshain said in his tweet. “Take a look at the linked training video JMU is forcing on its student employees. I hope students don’t have to buy into this woke nonsense in order to hold campus jobs.”
In Wilt’s statement, he said he’s “shocked” that JMU student employees had to watch the training video.
“Look folks, forcing these ideologies down our students' throats will get us nowhere,” Wilt said in the statement. “We need our educational institutions to get back to their intended purpose — providing a high-quality education for every student.”
JMU released a statement from President Jonathan Alger on Aug. 20 addressing the recent community concerns and the training video. The statement, which was accompanied by a video of Vice President of Student Affairs Tim Miller, said JMU has decided to “pause the training in question for evaluation.”
“We will meet with a range of JMU constituents to hear their thoughts and perspectives before we implement our future trainings, and we appreciate the voices we’ve heard recently,” Miller said in the video. “Please know that everyone is welcome at JMU. It’s important to me that we create a community for all.”
In the video, Miller said he believes that privilege is “a reality” and that it should be discussed for students to connect with and welcome diversity. Miller apologized for the impact the video had on the community and said he would “dedicate [his] efforts” to ensuring that JMU learns from the experience. In the written statement, Alger said diversity, equity and inclusion conversations are difficult but necessary.
“As we navigate this journey together, I ask for empathy and support of one another,” Alger’s statement said. “During this time of new beginnings, JMU and its leaders will be welcoming individuals from every imaginable background, and it is critical at these times to confront challenges and build strength and solidarity among us. We will continue to learn and grow together.”
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