Despite widespread opposition from Black lawmakers, civil rights organizations, and educators across the state, on Monday Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law Senate Bill 2113, legislation that seeks to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Mississippi’s K-12 schools, colleges and universities. 

In a three-minute video, Reeves claimed that, because of critical race theory, students are being “dragged to the front of the classroom and … coerced to declare themselves as oppressors” and “taught that they should feel guilty because of the color of their skin or that they are inherently a victim because of their race.” 

“I know that you’ll agree with me when I say that there is no room for this type of indoctrination in our state,” Reeves said. 

The Mississippi Department of Education has repeatedly said that critical race theory is not being taught in K-12 schools. In fact, critical race theory, a high-level academic and legal framework, is taught in just one class in Mississippi – Law 743, a course at the University of Mississippi School of Law. 

It’s unlikely the bill will prevent UM from offering Law 743. The vague language in the bill, educators and legal experts have repeatedly pointed out, does not describe critical race theory. The phrase is only in the title of the bill.

The bill, authored by Sen. Michael McClendon, R-Hernando, prohibits public schools from compelling “students to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere … that any sex, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.” It would also prevent schools from making “a distinction or classification of students based on account of race.”

Still, SB 2113 has teeth – any school that violates the bill stands to lose state funding. That’s why many educators and civil rights advocates across Mississippi are now waiting to see how SB 2113 will be enforced by education agencies across the state, from MDE and the Institutions of Higher Learning to local school districts. 

“The biggest fear we have is that it’s going to impact how teachers teach and how school districts embrace diversity and issues dealing with civil rights or Black history in Mississippi, “ said Jarvis Dortch, the executive director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “We’re afraid that you’re gonna see actions like you saw with the assistant principal in Hinds County — school districts will go overboard and try to avoid any type of litigation.” 

The bill’s impact also will likely be hard to quantify. Legal experts say SB 2113 will have a chilling effect on teachers who, fearing repercussions, will shy away from talking about the worst partsof Mississippi’s history.

The bill could also prevent public universities from recognizing affinity groups for marginalized students, such as the Black Law Students Association at University of Mississippi. Educators worry the bill could even affect science curriculum. 

“It’s easy to read this bill as prohibiting faculty to teach students about racial disparities in health and disease outcomes,” one professor wrote on Twitter. 

Last week, faculty at University of Southern Mississippi warned in a letter to President Rodney Bennett that SB 2113 could affect accreditation for the research universities in Mississippi. 

“The most serious harm of (SB 2113) will fall on our students, who will be denied the opportunity to learn and grow unencumbered from legislative dictates,” the letter reads. 

Faculty senates at three other Mississippi universities have also passed resolutions denouncing SB 2113

Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.

Higher education reporter at Mississippi Today in partnership with Open Campus.