Governor Youngkin Requests to Review Syllabi for Courses on Race and Racism at VCU

4 min readMar 11, 2024

Last week, Governor Youngkin and his extremist allies across the state escalated their ongoing attacks on diversity-related requirements in curricula across public universities in Virginia by requesting copies of the syllabi for all courses that would fulfill the Racial Literacies general education requirement at VCU. This request comes after a similar request at George Mason, and after a prolonged period of opposition to the implementation of such a requirement by VCU Administration.

Youngkin’s request to scrutinize faculty syllabi can only be understood as a form of attack on academic freedom and the First Amendment right to free speech on our college campuses with the latter being a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution. Gubernatorial review of college-level curriculum is unprecedented in Virginia and coincides with a national strategy to silence the teaching of racial justice and social inequalities that impact all populations residing in the U.S. in our schools. This is an unprecedented overreach which undermines any promise of shared governance on our campuses.

At VCU, Executive Administration has complied with Governer Youngkin’s request. We see this compliance — without timely notification or open discussion among the students who requested and began this initiative or the VCU faculty body — as the latest of a series of attempts to kill the implementation of the Racial Literacy curriculum requirement. This curriculum was a student-led project designed to meet the needs of VCU’s diverse student body, and it was an opportunity to introduce all students to the basic principles of racialized social inequalities and the work of building a more just society.

Two years ago, students and faculty at VCU committed to improving our collective racial literacy through this requirement. That process, which included both student, faculty and community governance, was an example of democratic curricular development. Despite student and educator overwhelming support, VCU’s administration moved to prevent the launch of the Racial Literacies requirement in 2021, 2022, 2023, and now 2024. Outcry from students and faculty alike sounded the alarm on administrative pushback, and this winter VCU indicated the courses were back on track for implementation.

On Friday, March 1, 2024 an announcement was made in late afternoon—the day before all students and faculty would enter spring break and only weeks before these courses would be submitted to, and likely approved by, the VCU Undergraduate Curriculum Committee — to a select group of faculty and administrators that the Governor’s Office had requested all approved racial literacy course syllabi. What we are witnessing is a new stage of the VCU Executive Administration’s unwillingness to protect all of our students, particularly underrepresented students of color, and extremists on our boards and state government who aim to whitewash Virginia’s past, present, and future while legislating the ignorance of our student populations.

Across Virginia, Youngkin donors have taken appointed board positions over our colleges and universities. Many of these appointees are representatives of right-wing groups waging a coordinated attack on truthful and just education for our students. At VCU Rooz Dadabhoy has openly waged political attacks against universities and educators.

At other campuses, we see more of the same. George Mason University’s appointed Board houses representatives of the Heritage Foundation, an organization that has long fought to defund and debilitate public higher education. At GMU administration handed over syllabi for courses with a “Just Societies” course designation earlier this spring. In a statement released by Youngkin’s office, Youngkin’s spokesperson called Just Societies “thinly veiled attempt to incorporate the progressive left’s groupthink on our students.”

The workers of VCU and all Virginia’s universities believe that all our students benefit from the truthful teaching of history, and from just and equitable access to courses on racial, gender, and economic justice in our classrooms. American history is rich with stories of multiracial coalitions joining together to fight for a shared future in which all people, including those historically subject to violence and inequality, have shared access to resources and equal footing to build a better life together.

We believe all students who believe in the fight for a just society belong on our campuses. We believe all of our students — students of color, queer and trans students, students with disabilities, first generation students, immigrant students, and working class students — have a shared interest in building a just society that works for them. That is the work of democracy. At a time when extremism has taken a chokehold on our political systems and now our educational institutions, the fight for democratic governance in our workplace is nothing less than a fight for our students and for our shared future.

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We are the VCU chapter of United Campus Workers of Virginia, a wall-to-wall union representing staff, faculty, graduate, and undergraduate workers statewide.