A student earning her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from the University of Alabama says she left the school after a professor brought Critical Race Theory (CRT) and other diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) ideas into the classroom. She said the ideas were offensive and dangerous.

Sarah Budde, an emergency room RN in Florida, thought Alabama would be the best place for her to pursue her doctorate.

However, she changed her mind after taking the multicultural and social education for leadership personnel class taught by Dr. Nirmala Erevelles.

"As a student, I paid for this program and paid for the course," Budde said. "I did not get what I paid for. It was all a focus on her political views."

According to the class syllabus, the course draws on "critical concepts and perspectives such as ideology critique, structural violence, social suffering, critical race theory, feminist theory, disability studies, queer theory, and social justice. These perspectives urge us to move beyond the usual platitudes of tolerating difference, affirming diversity, acquiring cultural competency, and 'getting along' to raise more fundamental philosophical and political questions regarding how people oppressively marked by social and cultural difference experience the social institution of health care."

Budde said her concerns began with her first in-person meeting of the hybrid class. During orientation, she said the teacher said although she teaches a CRT class, that class would not focus on that. However, Budde said Erevelles did inform the class that everyone had racial biases.

"When I was at orientation in January, she told us about biases in nursing and how we all have them, and she said she noticed we all looked at her when she walked into the auditorium because she's brown," Budde told 1819 News. "We were like, 'That's a weird comment because we looked at her because she was late to the meeting and we knew who she was because we knew all of the professors."

Budde said Erevelles then told the class they needed to rethink how volunteers and those who work in ministries are looked at because they are "othering" people. She said "othering" people is racist by assuming others need help.

As the class continued, Budde said Erevellas brought politics into the studies by telling the class the state of Florida has been arresting professors for teaching CRT and LGBTQ issues. Budde wrote to University of Alabama President Dr. Stuart Bell about her concerns.

"As a Floridian, I informed the class this is not true," the letter stated. "We were surprised to learn, however, that she does not have oversight on her syllabus and no one is monitoring the course. She told us she is allowed to teach whatever she wants. She also stated she would teach us how to subvert laws and teach CRT concepts in states where it is illegal."

Some of the required material in the class also raised concerns for Budde. The syllabus showed required reading was:

(B & S) Barker, J. B. & Scheele, J. (2019). Gender: A Graphic Guide. New York: Icon Books.

(HOLM) Holmes, S. M. (2013). Fresh fruit, broken bodies : Migrant farmworkers in the United States. Berkeley : University of California Press.

(KSC) Kagan, P. N., Smith, M. C., & Chinn, P. L. (2014). Philosophies and practices of emancipatory nursing: social justice as praxis (Vol. 11). New York: Routledge.

(NUSS) Nussbaum, S. (2013).  Good Kings, Bad Kings: A Novel. NC: Alonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

(WASH) Washington, H.  2008. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial times to the Present. New York: Anchor.

“The first text she had us read, Fresh Fruit: Broken Bodies, by Seth Holmes repeatedly refers to pro-Marxist philosophers and CRT concepts,” Budde wrote. “One of the more alarming ideas in this text is that healthcare workers should overlook Triqui marriage practices because they often marry 14-year-old girls to 18-year-old men so we shouldn't contact the Department of Children and Family Services if a 14-year-old from this group comes in pregnant. Doing so would be ignoring their culture and othering.”

The final straw for Budde was the book "Gender: A Graphic Guide."

"It's basically a comic book about different genders and how white men have been historically angry and sexually aggressive and how perceptions need to change," Budde said. "… It's just utter nonsense. It talks about how you can change your gender if you start behaving like the opposite gender."

As the wife of a police officer, Budde said she was further disturbed when Erevelles showed a slide showing that 50% of people killed by police are disabled.

"If you put that on the slide and you don't give it any context that disability extends to obesity now, which is all of us, then your students are thinking that the police are going out there killing people just because they want to," she added.

Budde said that type of rhetoric incites violence against law enforcement.

Budde said she approached program coordinator Dr. Doug McKnight about her concerns with another text that she says is pro-Marxist propaganda. She said she refused to attend the last meeting of the class. However, she was unable to get her money back for the class.

"If I had known that Alabama was so heavily steeped in CRT and Marxism, I never would have applied," Budde stated in her letter to Bell. "Dr. Erevelles teaches 2 more courses in the EdD program and I cannot continue to be called a racist or read propaganda. These concepts promote hate, racism, sexism and lies. No part of the class had any assignments or focus on leadership or multicultural leadership."

1819 News spoke with Erevelles, who denied the allegations that she ever said anyone was racist. She said the course had been offered at Alabama for years, even before she joined the program.

"It was a course that the student would have known about before she enrolled and it's a course that is part of the curriculum," Erevelles said. "And I haven't done anything outside of the ordinary."

Erevelles explained the purpose of the class is to address multicultural issues among leadership. She said she did not get any other complaints from other students in the class.

"Professionally, no professor would ever call anybody racist to their face," she continued. "It's about learning about issues of race; it's not about naming people and blaming people about it. It's not just about race; it's about different multi-cultural issues."

Erevelles was initially hesitant about being quoted on the topic because she said she wasn't sure about 1819 News and that the questions agitated her. However, she changed her mind to allow her viewpoint to be presented. She said she wanted to ensure she was not misrepresented and wanted the facts to be known.

"I would also like to name that when I talk about race it's not just, because people always have an assumption, when I talk about race I also talk about how race does not just mean black people or white people," she added. "We also talk about poor white people because of the things that happen. So, it's also the way that we construct race as if it's a singular group blaming a certain group of people. We talk about how race impacts all of us. Like, if you don't get access to health care if you don't get access to education, which are the two areas in which I teach this class, all people, all people suffer."

The professor claimed the issues discussed in the course are discussed very broadly so that no one race or person would feel singled out.

"I would never pretend you can please everyone but a majority of the students appreciate that they have the chance to talk about things that they don't have the opportunity to talk about," Erevelles said.

Budde said some of the teachings can have very real and dangerous consequences in a medical setting.

"If you come to triage, and you say, 'I have belly pain,' and you put down a pronoun that does not define whether you're male or female, and this narrative gets pushed to the point where I'm not even allowed to ask you if you're male or female and you change the language so much that it gets confusing … it makes a big difference," she said. "It makes a difference in health care and it makes a difference with young children. They don't understand and don't know. Especially if their parents are raising them as a 'they or them' and we don't know what we're dealing with. It could create a delay in care that could be dangerous."

McKnight has not responded to a media inquiry.

Bell has been outspoken about the university's support of DEI. Following the U.S. Supreme Court striking down affirmative action in university admissions, Bell said UA will continue to increase diversity efforts at the university. 

Budde said she plans to pursue her degree elsewhere.

To connect with the author of this story or to comment, email erica.thomas@1819news.com.

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