Administration To Promote Race-Related Education

Lane Barton

Ever since the Rally Against Racism last fall provoked a campus-wide conversation about race, the Whitman administration has been keen to promote future discussions on the issue. Although the upcoming Power and Privilege Symposium provides an opportunity for students, staff and faculty to come together and have thought-provoking exchanges, members of the administration recognize that this is only a single step in developing the conversation of race and diversity on campus.

“One and done is not enough,” said Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland.

The administration has already taken steps to promote internal understanding of and involvement with discussions of racial diversity on campus. The college is currently looking for an associate dean of diversity and intercultural affairs to focus on issues of race, and the administration has already held a training session for the Student Affairs staff with Tamara King, an expert on race issues from Washington University in St. Louis.  The session addressed how the administration has handled the issue of race on campus and what they can do to promote discussions in the future.

Additionally, the administration has ideas for students as well, such as the possibility of an opening week workshop for first-years.

“We’re looking to organize an opening week session. We’re in the middle of doing that …. In general, the framework that I think we’re looking to apply is to have someone come in and talk about … this issue of how to have difficult conversations over difficult issues that gives first-year students some of the tools and then follow up with a series of sessions,” said Cleveland.

Although some might worry that this proposed session would turn into a lecture or a training of first-year students, members of the administration emphasize that events like this are about promoting discourse and trying to get people to think about the issues at hand.

“This is what some people think about it––that we’re trying to get people to think about something in a certain way––and instead we would like people to explore how power and privilege effects everyone’s lives,” said Associate Dean of Students Clare Carson.

Carson and Cleveland also reiterated the hope that all members of the Whitman community would be involved in continuing the conversation of race, especially if they feel that they have no connection or interest in the discussion.

“This is everybody’s issue, and everyone needs to be a part of the conversation,” said Cleveland. “Even if it’s trying to understand, ‘How do I, someone who seems to have it all going fine … how do I fit into this conversation? What impact do I have?'”

Through surveys, the administration identified that splitting the focus of these exchanges to target a specific group on campus is not the ideal way to structure them. Therefore, the Power and Privilege Symposium and events like it will not be aimed at any particular group of students.

“Students all across the board have recognized when they attend [these events] that they have personal growth that they’ve experienced … so these are not targeted to one group or another, but across the board people do benefit from being a part of this discussion,” said Carson.

Instead, the administration hopes that future events beyond the Power and Privilege Symposium will provide a space for students of all classifications, backgrounds and interests to come together and stimulate insightful conversations that make everyone involved more aware of all thoughts on the issues.

“Challenging perspectives, critical thinking, brainstorming as to how to resolve issues, identification of … what we need to do and where we need to focus. Those are the kind of encounters we need to have,” said Cleveland.