Davidson College stands by decision to show athletes ‘divisive’ film on racism

Davidson College is facing criticism that it required the school’s student-athletes to view a documentary on racism found by some to be divisive and offensive.

Davidsonians for Freedom of Thought and Discourse, a locally based free speech organization, identified the film “I’m not Racist…Am I?” as a concern regarding on-campus student rights. Criticism related to the film generated hundreds of thousands of impressions on X, formerly known as Twitter, including a response from Elon Musk, the company’s owner.

In a lengthy account on the Davidson organization’s website, the group said it contacted college President Doug Hicks and faculty members on Tuesday after receiving complaints from several athletes and their parents who found portions of the film that discussed race to be “offensive, divisive, and personally insulting.”

Though Davidson officials declined to explain to The Charlotte Observer why that particular documentary was selected or when it was shown, the college stood by its decision to present it.

“Students encounter many ideas, perspectives, and beliefs about the world at college, and even though a reading or event is assigned, that does not mean that anyone at the college expects students to agree with every idea they encounter,” Davidson said in its statement. “Learning – and teamwork – is about exploring different ideas, countering with better ones, and expanding knowledge.”

What did the film show?

Released in 2013 by Manhattan-based The Calhoun School and Point Made Films, “I’m Not Racist… Am I?” follows 12 New York City teenagers from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds as they go through a series of workshops and conversations on how to confront racism.

Davidsonians for Freedom of Thought and Discourse took issue with a nearly 5-minute clip from the film that showed antiracism consultant Justin Freitas, with the nonprofit organization Undoing Racism, explaining to the students how to interpret and define what racism is.

Freitas says in the scene racism was designed to help white people at the expense of minorities. An unidentified Black man in the clip explains to students minorities can be bigots, express racial prejudice and engage in acts of discrimination against others.

“But as a collective, Blacks, Latinos and other groups do not have the power to collectively oppress white people,” he said.

The clip ends with Freitas responding “yes” to a question from a student who asks whether he thinks all white people are racists.

“We would also say that it’s only white people that could be racist, that are racist,” he said.

Reaction to film shown by Davidson

The clip of that scene has been widely shared on social media, including by Musk, who responded to a post about it with an exclamation point.

The Davidson alumni group said it doesn’t object to discussions on racism, but found it troubling that the school’s athletic department encouraged its more than 500 athletes to watch a documentary they claimed “pushed a radical worldview.”

DFTD said Davidson football coach Scott Abell gathered the team in a discussion about the documentary and concluded that conversations were beneficial even though not all players agreed with certain messages or portrayals in the film.

“I’m Not Racist… Am I?” has been screened at dozens of schools nationwide since its release, including at Carolina Friends School in Durham.

Davidson alum Kenny Xu, a board member of DFTD who graduated from the college in 2019 and is running for Congress in North Carolina’s District 13, said in a statement published by Fox News showing the documentary is how “woke university administrators behave when they are in power.”

“The mandatory viewing of this video by my alma mater shows the dismal trajectory of our higher education system unless things are changed,” Xu said. “Universities were supposed to guide us and enlighten us to explore alternative paths.”

Conversely, Mbye Njie, a Davidson alum, expressed support on social media for the school presenting the film to athletes.

“This is why I love Davidson College, the leaders and teachers there,” he wrote on X. “Isn’t college when and where you are supposed to have uncomfortable conversations?”