Campus Inclusion and Community to host ‘Deconstructing Whiteness’ workshop

Julia Doran, Reporter

Northwestern’s Campus Inclusion and Community is launching a workshop examining race, specifically geared toward white students.

Titled “Deconstructing Whiteness,” the guiding principle of the workshop is that social justice work should start by examining self-identity before trying to understand the experiences of others, said Michele Enos, assistant director of Social Justice Education, an office within the Division of Student Affairs.

Enos, who will be leading the workshop, said this initiative has been a goal of hers since she helped create a similar group for white Northwestern staff members last year.

“There’s a lot of space on this campus for conversations to happen around issues of privilege and specifically around issues of white privilege,” she said.

The workshop, which will begin Tuesday and run once a week through March at the Women’s Center, will encompass several topics, including terminology used in conversations of race, the history and meaning of whiteness, white guilt and the difference between intellectualizing and feeling racism, Enos said.

She said discussions will reveal how racism operates in people’s everyday lives in ways they often fail to consider.

“Especially with everything that’s happening both on this campus and other campuses and in this country, I think now is a very important time for white people to start to understand their role in doing social justice work,” Enos said.

Enos said she expects about 15 participants for this workshop but hopes to continue to strengthen and develop this initiative going forward.

SESP junior Matt Herndon, a member of the Sustained Dialogue leadership team, said “Deconstructing Whiteness” will help students more clearly understand their identities by generating challenging conversations that don’t happen enough on Northwestern’s campus.

“A lot of the time, people don’t really think about how their whiteness impacts their daily experiences and how institutions are set up to support that whiteness,” Herndon said.

Kate Gladstone, a Communication senior who is also part of Sustained Dialogue, said because whiteness is a dominant identity, people often think of it as a neutral identity and neglect to examine it as a race with important implications.

She said the workshop will offer white students a unique opportunity to take initiative in teaching and learning about race.

“It’s important to have a space for white students to have these discussions because so often the burden of teaching about race and racial injustice falls on the shoulders of people of color, and that’s an unfair burden for them to bear,” Gladstone said.

She said although some of the conversations will likely be difficult or uncomfortable, these discussions are essential in order to work toward social justice.

“Learning happens when we’re uncomfortable but safe, and I think that’s the goal of setting up a space like this,” Gladstone said. “I think that the kind of self-work that a workshop like this demands holds a lot of promise.”

Enos said all participants will be encouraged to be vulnerable and open to ensure they can truly get something meaningful from the workshop. She said she thinks the students will become more comfortable sharing the space with each other as they start to discuss their personal experiences with race.

“The space will give white people a chance to forgive one another and to support one another and to learn how to challenge one another,” she said.

This post was updated for clarity at 11:51 p.m.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @_juliadoran