COLLEGE LAUNCHES GROUP FOR WHITE STUDENTS TO COMBAT THEIR WHITE PRIVILEGE
by MACAELA BENNETT - HILLSDALE COLLEGE on SEPTEMBER 17, 2014
Group aims to tackle ‘what it means to have whiteness’ and how to be ‘part of the solution’
Stonehill College has launched a campus group for white students to discuss “what it means to have whiteness” – and what they can do to help offset the perceived injustices caused by their skin color.
“Exploring Whiteness” was introduced at the private, Massachusetts-based Catholic college this fall, and will delve into how “identity and privilege intersect,” an online description of the club states.
“White students want a place to explore what it means to be white,” Liza Talusan, the director of the Office of Intercultural Affairs, told The College Fix in a telephone interview. “Forever, you’ve grown up being told not to talk about it — that diversity is for brown people —they’re so scarred from being told for so long that they can’t talk about it.”
Common themes expected to be explored include “what it means to have whiteness, what is white as a cultural experience, systemic and institutional privileges that are associated with whiteness, and the ways in which white allies can interrupt the cycle of racism in our society,” a description of the group states.
The dialogue group will meet weekly, led by a couple of student facilitators, and discuss personal experiences related to diversity and how they can correct related social injustices. The group will not be focused on political or related topics.
“We don’t want them to feel like they have to have a position on political topics and risk being criticized,” Talusan said. “They’ll be given one assignment a week that just has to do with noticing. Like spending a week looking at who is in positions of power and who is cleaning up after the show. The goal for any of these groups is for people to be more aware of what’s around them.”
As the name and description suggest, only “those identifying as white” will be allowed to participate in the discussion group.
“All of our groups are self-identified, so if they self-identify as white, of course they’ll be welcome, but if they can’t articulate a connection, we’ll tell them no,” Talusan said. “It needs to feel like a safe space where people won’t judge them.”
She said the group is deliberately titled to ensure it’s not misrepresented as a “white power group,” and an online description explains the group is for “students from European heritage backgrounds who come together to discuss issues of diversity and their desire to engage in inclusion work.”
Stonehill led a pilot version of the group last year in which 10 to 12 students participated. Talusan said bigger numbers are expected for this year due to the interest shown from almost 30 students at the college’s recent activities fair.
The group held its first meeting on Sept. 8, at which four students attended in addition to the student facilitators, she said.
Talusan said she believes the group benefits the college community and hopes other colleges follow suit in establishing similar groups.
“My entire philosophy is that one type of person can’t solve the world’s problems, we have to work together,” she said. “When we run programs that exclude identities, we’re not making a lot of progress. Instead, we’re just paddling a boat with one oar.”
“We’re proud that after all of this, white students are saying ‘No, I want to be part of the solution,’” she added. “To move forward, we have to make sure all of our oars are in the water.”
“Exploring Whiteness” joins the already established cultural and diversity groups on campus, of which there are many, including clubs for Black and Asian students, and several to support the LGBTQ campus community.
The school also offers the: Campus Conversations on Diversity Series; DiverCity Festival; Diversity on Campus (D.O.C.); Diversity Networking Group; Diversity and Inclusion Networking Event (D.I.N.E.); Diversity Committee of Student Government Association; Faculty and Staff of Color Group; Intercultural Experience Program (IEP); Raising Awareness of our Cultural Experiences (R.A.C.E.) discussion group; and Stonehill Alumni of Color Group.
College Fix reporter Macaela Bennett is a student at Hillsdale College.