Panelists discuss white privilege in light of bulletin board incident
The Santa Clara
May 17, 2018
Students and staff of Santa Clara gathered in McLaughlin-Walsh Residence Hall last Wednesday with the hope of answering a difficult but necessary question.
Earlier this quarter a controversial bulletin board was posted on the first floor of McLaughlin-Walsh. The bulletin board was created by sophomore JJ Burwell who serves as a Community Facilitator (CF) for the building.
It was originally titled “S-Know Your Whiteness,” a play on words in reference to the Disney film “Snow White” but later changed to pose the question, “What is Whiteness?”
In the hour-long talk by the same name, professors Anthony Hazard, Patrick LopezAguado and Laura Ellingson responded to questions examining “whiteness” and white privilege in today’s society, as well as in the Santa Clara community. Anonymous questions from the audience were also addressed.
The lack of consciousness that white people have about their race was a main topic of discussion.
Lopez-Aguado gave an example of the experience of white felons. He said that it wasn’t until they went to jail that they became aware of their whiteness and the implications of it.
“It became clear to them [that] this is who you are racially, and there are consequences for that,” Lopez-Aguado said.
Although Santa Clara talks a lot about diversity and inclusion on campus, the discussion panelists had some issues with the university’s diversity in its staff and their willingness to learn more about this important topic.
“Of the tenure-track faculty on this campus, 71 percent of them are white males,” said Hazard, who teaches classes that explore the issue of race in the United States. “This is a question that we might ask ourselves: Why aren’t there scholars who are white and male on this campus who actually study whiteness?”
Hazard added that he had just attended a faculty meeting and was the only black person in the room.
He was not the only one to point out the lack of diversity at the university.
“If you go into a room that has our president, our provost and every single vice president, you will only be in a room of white men,” Ellingson said. “You have to get down to the provost office and the provost’s assistants and the associates before you get a woman or a person of color. ”
The panelists made it clear that whiteness has much deeper implications in society than its literal meaning.
For them, whiteness and white privilege are heavily intertwined.
Because of this, another main topic of conversation was that of white privilege.
Ellingson, a white female, shared what white privilege meant to her.
“To me, white privilege means that I can make those fights about sexuality, about sex, about rape, about disability and I have the privilege of not making it also about race,” Ellingson said.
In light of the whiteness bulletin board from earlier this quarter and the upset it raised, Hazard said that people’s negative reactions were “a clear manifestation of what it means to have white privilege.”
Several anonymous questions submitted by audience members challenged this notion of white privilege.
One question pointed to Asian privilege and another hinted that affirmative action policies are unfair.
The questions, however, were consistently met with opposition and counterarguments from the panelists.
According to Hazard, white privilege is an indisputable fact.
“History shows us that white people have been privileged for 400 years,” he said as audience members snapped in support.
In response to a question on affirmative action, Ellingson replied that many universities favor applicants with legacy at the school.
“Tremendous amounts of research show that white people whose parents or grandparents went to an institution are the ones who get in with the very lowest scores,” Ellingson said.
One audience member pointed out that this event was on whiteness and yet there was no white male on the panel.
Audience member and first-year student Ann Nguyen echoed this comment.
“I really enjoyed the event, but I wish they would have looked at things more from the other side,” she said.
When reflecting on what we do moving forward to improve race relations, Hazard has some recommendations for things that students can do. Some things he suggested were for students to join “Showing Up For Racial Justice,” an organization based on mobilizing white individuals for racial justice.
He also recommended that students at Santa Clara take more than one diversity course.
“Generation to generation, the world you are growing up in is markedly different than the one your parents did and your grandparents did,” LopezAguado added. “Recognizing that change happens all the time means that you can also direct how it happens and I think that is important to remember.”
Contact Celia Martinez at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.