What are universities teaching students about Jan. 6, 2021?

Published 1:22 am Wednesday, January 12, 2022

By Roz Brown

Texas News Service

Condemnation for last year’s Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol emerged from all quarters, but some believe colleges and universities have been slow to respond in a meaningful way.
Jeremi Suri, professor of history and public affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, said institutions may want to avoid controversy, despite a commitment to promote civic engagement and civil dialogue. He believes there is an obligation to teach students the event’s significance, similar to what occurred after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“It’s not as if faculty aren’t talking about it, but we’re not talking about it publicly,” Suri explained. “We are individually, but the institution doesn’t want to own it – they don’t want to have an institutional teach-in as we should have had on Jan. 6.”
Suri noted the pandemic has been the biggest hindrance to a broader discussion, but added colleges and universities may not have pursued such events because the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol is viewed as a “partisan matter,” which might upset donors and governing boards.
Suri argued teaching students about democracy, including what constitutes fair elections, why elections matter or how the country transfers power peacefully, is nonpartisan.
“It’s our obligation to not just educate the students in the history and political science classes,” Suri contended. “The engineers should have access to this information too, and we fell down on the job.”
Suri pointed out the U.S. has had moments when its democracy was fuller and sought to include more viewpoints, and other times when deep divisions caused it to narrow, which he believes is happening now.
“There’s an assumption that many of us grew up with, that American democracy was kind of a given,” Suri stressed. “And what Jan. 6 highlighted, and reinforced not just the flaws and difficulties of American Democracy but how precarious it is.”
Suri advocated for colleges and universities to take on the “civics challenge” posed by the insurrection and hold teach-ins, symposia and collective discussions.