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Proposed bills aim to tighten restrictions on students, immigrants and teaching race

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State Rep. Bob Thorpe, a Flagstaff Republican, has introduced three education-related bills at the Arizona Legislature that target social justice courses, and DREAMers and have spurred activists springing into action.

One bill died before it was even voted on when House Education Committee Chairman Paul Boyer said he wouldn't give the bill a hearing, citing a lack of support by Democrats and Republicans alike. HB 2120 would have cut state funding by 10 percent to colleges and universities that offer classes and programs that "promote division, resentment or social justice toward a race, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class or other class."

Two more bills that have activists gearing up for a fight are HB 2260, which would prohibit students living in dorms from registering to vote, and HB 2119, which would withhold state funding from colleges that offer in-state tuition to so-called DREAMers, or undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors.

HB 2260 and HB 2119 had yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing as of press time.

The bill targeting social justice courses was meant to expand upon a 6-year-old bill that resulted in Tucson Unified School District eliminating their Mexican-American studies program. According to supporters of the law, the program fell into the category of classes that teach "resentment toward a race or class of people." That law's constitutionality is being challenged in court.

Thorpe, who declined an interview request from Tucson Weekly, told Capitol Media Services that classes and programs like "Whiteness and Race Theory" at Arizona State University and a "privilege walk" sponsored by the University of Arizona divide people and create resentment, but educators and activists disagree.

Equality Arizona, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, put out a press release calling for people to oppose the bill. These types of classes and programs don't teach resentment, they teach history from a different cultural perspective, said JP Martin, one of the group's members. He also thinks learning to see from another's perspective makes us kinder.

Another group that put out a call to action was the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance, a trans-advocacy group. When taught correctly, these classes shouldn't create resentment, said Abby Jensen, vice president and general counsel for SAGA.

"One of the purposes of school, especially public education, is to teach our students, our youth, to live in the world," she said. "Part of the ability to do that is an awareness of our society—the way things are, and sadly, that includes the fact that there is still racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia."

Mexican-American studies at Arizona colleges may have been affected by such a bill. Those classes teach about social justice issues as well as health and educational disparities, culture, history and contributions of the Mexican-American community to the U.S.

The bill was unclear and even contradicted itself, said the head of the UA Mexican-American studies Anna O'Leary. But some opponents fear Thorpe will rewrite the bill and try to get it passed again.

"When students come to universities, they come here for a reason. They come to learn about different perspectives and different ideas," O'Leary said. "This is what they paid for. They paid to be challenged and to understand and work through those challenges to be better thinkers, to be an informed electorate, people who won't be led astray by lies or false premises."

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