Are Critical Race and Cancel Culture silencing students with fear of being canceled?

Cancel culture, and critical race theory are creating education upheaval. Critical race theory and cancel culture have vastly produced hate outrage and emotional response in our communities. According to Gerstmann (2021), half of all states passed laws restricting critical race theory in schools. Critical race theory is an academic term that increases concern for canceling culture by creating racial separation and shaming white students based on their race (Gerstmann, 2021). This has come under fire in the political arena as the 2022 elections are approaching. Depending on what perspective they are most aligned with, politicians’ concerns will have a profound results direct result.

The author argues that abusive practices in the name of racial progression are happening daily. One example is a professor at Penn State who seems to be the most outspoken and unapologetic. One of many possible examples is what happened in a large Penn State lecture class recently.

The Professor, Sam Richards, approached a random white student. He didn’t seek the student’s consent to be made an example out of. He said, “I just take the average white guy in class; whoever it is, it doesn’t really matter. Dude, this guy here. Stand up, bro. What’s your name, bro? Look at Russell, right here, it doesn’t matter what he does. If I match him up with a black guy in class, or a brown guy… who’s just like him, has the same GPA, looks like him, walks like him, talks like him, acts in a similar way…and we send them into the same jobs…Russell has a benefit of having white skin.”

Examining this incident and Penn State’s response, the administration replied that “Professor Richards purposefully teaches in a manner designed to promote discussion across a spectrum of opinions” (Gerstmann, 2021). The denial posture of the Situational Crisis Communications Theory can be applied here. Penn State’s lack of culpability inserts the strategy to remove any connection from Professor Richards and frame the response that he is the expert teaching in a purposeful manner which is another way for the organization to remove itself from the crisis (Coombs, 2007, p. 171).

Today’s students face the challenge of their education experience being limited based on these teachings. The fear of being canceled limits the ability of students to have truthful, authentic conversations (Gerstmann, 2021).

The students of today are the future of tomorrow. How can a society evolve when being reminded of all the bad that has happened in an intimate setting such as a classroom? Well, yes, free speech and academic freedom are most important so are the structure in which they are heard and taught. When a university promotes this behavior from professors and approves of singling out students because they are white, they are guilty of abusing their academic responsibility.

The denial posture Penn State used was cowardly. Their communication team did not evaluate the big picture. The backlash has ensued throughout digital media because of this behavior and lack of accountability or communication. Following the guidelines in SCCT, they could have informed or adjusted the information to provide a more intelligent response (Coombs, 2007). Any reputational damage to Penn State could have been avoided with the proper response. Penn State could have even removed itself from the situation or acted accountably. Instead, their poor communications efforts or lack thereof may produce reputational damage, financial loss.

Let’s not forget about the students who are afraid to use the free expression for fear of being canceled. While it is essential to teach all different kinds of history, it should be conducted so that it’s safe to have discussions and intelligent dialect to promote and further learning. Although students are afraid to speak, how can they even have the courage to learn when they’re too busy monitoring their every move? How can students be present when they constantly feel as if they’re in danger by simply participating in class.


Coombs, W. (2007). Protecting organization reputations during a crisis: The development and application of situational crisis communication theory. Corporate Reputation Review, 10(3), 163–176.

Gerstmann, E. (2021, August 2). Denying the abuses of critical race theory and cancel culture. Forbes.

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