Themed bulletin board in residence hall faces backlash
The Santa Clara
April 19, 2018
“Shame on Santa Clara University for allowing this in their dorm halls,” read a Facebook post by sophomore Alex Stewart from earlier this month.
Stewart was referring to a bulletin board titled “S-Know Your Whiteness” that was displayed on the first floor of McLaughlinWalsh Residence Hall during the first week of this quarter.
Each quarter, Community Facilitators (CFs) in McLaughlin-Walsh—also referred to by its Residential Learning Community name, “Unity”—are required to create and post one bulletin board in the Residence Hall.
This quarter, CFs were encouraged to use a Disney theme for their bulletin boards.
JJ Burwell, Unity CF and creator of the “Whiteness” bulletin board, chose a Snow White theme for his board. On it, he included a picture of the Disney Princess, as well as each of her seven dwarfs—with the exception of Happy.
The “S-Know Your Whiteness” board, seemingly aimed to educate students who identify as white, included sub-headings like, “It’s about Power” and “What to do about it.”
According to Burwell, the purpose of the bulletin board projects is to, “educate residents on specific topics of our theme of diversity, social justice and civic engagement.”
The Facebook post, along with the original bulletin board, have since been taken down, but not before the post gathered dozens of likes, shares and comments from people—even those outside of the Santa Clara community.
In his post, Stewart tagged Ben Shapiro, a conservative political journalist, and Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, a conservative non-profit organization.
Following the publication of the Facebook post, an article about the Santa Clara bulletin board was published on The Daily Caller, a conservative news and opinion website based in Washington D.C.
In response to Steward’s Facebook post, Unity Staff sent an email out to McLaughlin-Walsh residents inviting them to “explore the bulletin board presented on 1st McLaughlin.”
The email also suggested that “if [the bulletin board] raises any discomfort” for its readers, they should “reflect further on where that might be coming from.”
Although the bulletin board raised issues for some, Burwell said that his decision to create the board came from an informative standpoint.
“[The term ‘whiteness’] explains the basis of race relations and a multitude of social interactions that affect all of us on a basis of race relations and a multitude of social interactions that affect all of us on a daily basis in the United States,” Burwell said. “As can be seen on the board, whiteness is not about skin color alone, and is not about shaming ‘white’ people. Rather, it is the system and ideology of racism that we live in. I wanted more people to be cognizant of this fact and be encouraged to learn more about it.”
“Whiteness Studies in the 21st Century,” or Ethnic Studies 172, is a course offered at Santa Clara, taught by Dr. Anthony Hazard.
The course examines changing concepts of whiteness and teaches students to gain insight into the shifts that reshape the broader dynamics of race in the US.
“Whiteness isn’t simply about skin color, rather it’s both a historical force and a contemporary designation that serves to allocate certain benefits and privileges to those defined as white in a given society,” Hazard said in response to the bulletin board and the backlash it received. “Engaging whiteness on this campus is terribly important, if in fact we as faculty, staff and students seek to live up to the Jesuit values of educating the whole person and advocating for social justice.”
Despite the bulletin board’s academic intentions, the Unity staff felt that it would be best to rethink the wording.
“Following unsettling posts on Facebook, the decision was made with CF JJ to temporarily remove the bulletin board,” said Omar Harb Michel, Resident Director of McLaughlinWalsh. “[This was] to consult with the larger team about effective methods to educate residents about the critical topic of ‘whiteness’ and ‘white privilege.’ This is an important leadership experience for the Unity staff and a fundamental part of our educational process.”
The Multicultural Center (MCC) and its staff is aware of the situation, and have been working to support the Unity staff through this process.
“In a world that challenges the validity of our truths—the truths of power, oppression, and privilege — we stand strongly in support of this bulletin board and the CF that created it,” Director of the MCC Zerreen Kazi said in a statement she made on behalf of the group. “We see this bulletin board, and the content it represents, as an important step in working towards a more just, inclusive community.”
An updated bulletin board has been posted on the first floor of McLaughlinWalsh with the new headline of “What is Whiteness?”
Along with the headline, sub-headings were also changed to be less accusatory.
The sub-heading, originally titled “What to do about it,” now reads “Next Steps.”
Stewart, however, is still frustrated by the bulletin board, despite the changes, saying that “By [putting the board back up], the University is discriminating against people with white skin.”
Burwell, on the other hand, feels that the situation has been an overall positive one.
“The best part of this incident was the immense amount of support I received from Unity residents and other SCU students,” Burwell said. “Many of my residents personally came to me to talk about how proud they were to see a board that they felt was necessary and meaningful to them. It also led to many conversations about ‘whiteness’ and realities of the system of racism. Bringing awareness is the first step to addressing the issue, and I believe the board—and in a way the backlash it received—accomplished this.”
Contact Kimi Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.