“Now, in the face of the deep wounds and scars of racial prejudice, how can one hope to understand another racial experience if one does not try to understand their own?” asked junior Tramaine Kaleebu, Chair of Solidarity Cabinet, in her opening speech.
Last week, Solidarity Cabinet — which seeks to establish a culture of racial reconciliation at Wheaton — hosted a two-part lecture series entitled “Exploring Whiteness.” Including faculty, staff and student speakers, as well as a Q&A panel, the event was created to encourage white students to explore their racial identity and the associated implications, including issues of white privilege and being an ally to marginalized races.
“We believe the 77 percent white majority of our undergraduate student body should be offered a space to explore and hopefully reconcile with their whiteness in all its complexity,” said Kaleebu.
An estimated 100 students attended Thursday night’s session, in which Staff Advisor to Solidarity Cabinet Rachel Snavely reviewed Janet Helms’ white racial identity model. The model, developed in the 1990s, describes how white people can grow to identity individual and structural racism, acknowledge white privilege and develop a non-racist white identity. A video featuring Allison Ash, associate dean of student care and services, also addressed white racial identity. Later, Visiting Professor of Anthropology Christine Jeske shared her experience with white privilege and how it can be used as a “tool for good.”
“It is always an important time to talk about white privilege,” said Jeske. “It has been for several hundred years … we need to look at it whether or not the current news reminds us to.”
The smaller Friday session, which focused on the topic of “white allies,” also featured a Q&A panel made up of faculty, staff and students. Visiting professor of philosophy Cliff Williams, who currently teaches a course called “Race and Justice,” was a member of the panel. In his words, the importance of the event was to emphasize that “those of us who are white need to be aware of our ‘whiteness’ as well as of the painful experiences black people have had and continue to have.” Williams said as Christians, we should care about justice and equality in racial matters just as much as we care about spreading the Gospel.
No future events are planned to further address issues revolving around whiteness, though Kaleebu stated she will “strongly encourage” the cabinet to continue the series next year.