Southern Methodist University seems like a rarity in higher education.
Students consider SMU to be politically balanced or more conservative, according to Niche, and the school has an “average” free speech climate, according to a survey from College Pulse and FIRE. The school attracts conservative donors like Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and his wife Suzanne Youngkin, an alumna. The Dallas school’s motto is “Veritas Liberabit Vos,” or “The Truth Will Make You Free.”
It also has an ostensibly religious nature and is well-known in Christian theological circles. It displayed the world’s earliest, most complete 1,100-year-old Hebrew Bible in April. It has also produced several Republican political figures including former First Lady Laura Bush, Sen. Rick Scott, and the late Sen. John Tower, and it is home to the George W. Bush Presidential Center.
But when SMU embraced left-wing demands in the turbulent summer of 2020, it opened the door to critical theory in the forms of race and sexuality. The school has since allowed this unorthodox ideology to begin creating an internal structure of enforcement.
“SMU’s fight against racism and discrimination must be enacted as a university-wide effort, not a mere student concern,” reads a letter of demands from the school’s Black Unity Forum, sent in late summer of 2020.
SMU’s Board of Trustees responded with a Sept. 18, 2020 letter encouraging university President Gerald Turner and the administration to make progress on meeting many of the group’s demands.
The group’s demands included mandatory training to “persistently educate those who display social ignorance” and “reprimand and reform students who use their platform to promote hateful speech and actions.”
The group called for hiring a chief diversity officer or associate provost for diversity, creating an endowment specifically for black students, and increasing “black representation” in hiring. It demanded more recruiting for specifically black tenure-track professors while, ironically, calling for 50 percent fewer reports of racial profiling and discrimination.
“Currently, the only mental health professional dedicated to student-athletes is [name omitted for privacy], a white woman,” the letter reads. “While [name omitted for privacy] does an amazing job, there are noticeable disconnects when black and other minority athletes’ shared experiences are missing the needed empathy only a fellow minority can offer.”
Turner issued a letter discussing these efforts on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
“With the Black Unity Forum, we developed an actionable, sustainable and community-accountable strategic plan that touches every aspect of all of our lives,” Turner wrote. “We cannot rest. We must continue to pursue our campus goals of diversity and inclusion with the same sense of urgency.”
SMU had been offering progress updates on its work to meet the group’s demands until as recently as February.
The school hired a chief diversity officer and established its Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) in August 2020. The ODI reports to the university president, working to remedy what it calls “injustice and inequity,” promote “inclusive admission, recruiting, hiring and promotion practices,” and oversee the school’s “Cultural Intelligence and anti-bias training.”
SMU appointed diversity officers to the University Diversity Council in November 2020. The school was developing a data dashboard that month to show the “composition” of current staff, aiming to increase “Black representation in hiring processes on campus.”
The school’s ODI launched its website in April 2021. The group offers resources like the Cultural Intelligence Initiative (CII) and anti-bias training, the Office of Institutional Access and Equity, and the Women and LGBT Center.
The CII takes a “revolutionary” approach to promote what it calls “cultural intelligence” among faculty, staff, and students through resources and workshops. It draws from “business, theology, social advocacy, politics, and the arts” to bring “transformative impact.”
The IAE aims to “prohibit discrimination and foster access and equity” across campus and maintains the school’s affirmative-action plan. A university policy manual, last updated in 2019, said the school was aiming to “promote affirmative action and take remedial measures as indicated to enhance diversity.”
The Women and LGBT Center hosts “Women at SMU,” which refers students to Planned Parenthood and offers “feminism” resources. It hosts “Trans at SMU,” which offers gender-neutral restrooms, “gender inclusive” housing, and school document changes reflecting the “preferred name” of gender-confused students. The center also hosts “LGBT at SMU” which offers an “LGBT mentorship program,” “ally training,” an LGBT speakers’ bureau, and more.
SMU’s human resources office signed a contract in September 2021 to post job openings to “diversity sites” like HireBlack.com, Asian Inclusion Jobs, Women Inclusion Jobs, Diversity Inclusion Jobs, and the Hispanic Job Exchange. That month, the school hired a new athletic mental health worker with a “commitment to advancing diversity equity and inclusion.”
The same month, the chief diversity officer launched a system incorporating the CII into the new staff training process, among other things. The school’s HR office also began recording staff members’ completion of cultural training in weekly reports.
SMU’s human resources office had spent $90,000 in advertising to reach applicants from “underrepresented populations” by February 2022.
Students gathered that month for a “Queer State of the University” to celebrate “queer joy.” Posters advertising the event boasted speakers from the SMU Senate, the Human Rights Campaign, and SMU Spectrum, an undergraduate LGBT group that hosts events like Drag Bingo.
But the school held some of its first large-scale “pride” events in April 2022, according to the Dallas Voice. Events included drag, activism awards, and displays promoting the LGBT movement.
The school was offering classes including “Queer Sexualities in France,” “Intro to Transgender Studies,” “Sex, Drugs, and Rocks,” “Gender, Sex, and Sexuality,” “Race and Ethnicity in Us,” and “Diversity Foundations” as of July 17 this year.
Turner said in a February meeting that the school would use “academic freedom” to defend racial curriculum and so-called “diversity, equity, and inclusion” programs in the face of education reform.
After the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in its June ruling on Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, Turner issued a statement saying the university would take time to analyze the ruling and revise its policies.
“We will determine how the specifics of the high court’s ruling will affect the consideration of race in our enrollment,” he said. “We will meet this challenge while continuing to build a community that mirrors our global society.”
But ideology at SMU goes back even further than today’s cultural and political clashes. The Perkins School of Theology hosted a class in 2016 and 2019 called “Queer Bible Hermeneutics,” as reported by The College Fix. The class posted blogs including “Queering King David,” “The Path of Queer Virtue: Identity,” and “On the Intersection of Womanist Queer Theory and the Imago Dei and Kendrick Lamar.”
“One of the goals of queer theologies is deconstruction of the biblical text,” reads a blog post. “Deconstruction can help us understand that there is no clear meaning to the text that we can discern with our own biases.”
Race and gender ideology ultimately aim to “deconstruct” life in their respective areas. Paulo Freire, a Brazilian Marxist and critical theory figurehead, argued in Pedagogy of the Oppressed that education cannot be neutral. Rather, he said, it should aim for transformation, and ultimately “critical consciousness” for liberation.
Critical theory, which weaponizes race and sexuality, had been waiting at the school doors. It just needed someone to let it in.