A college in Oregon is planning to observe “Whiteness History Month” in April, saying that the decision is an educational project, not a celebration.
Portland Community College is planning a month of discussions, workshops, and panels that will look into the issue of racism by talking about “whiteness” during the month, which college officials say is not a celebration of heritage in the way that Women’s History Month of Black History Month is. Instead, the website states it is an “effort to change our campus climate” through discussions about race and racism.
According to the school, “whiteness refers to the construction of the white race, white culture, and the system of privileges and advantages afforded to white people in the U.S.”
Sylvia Kelley, interim president of Portland Community College, released a statement on the topic late last week labeling whiteness as a social and political reference to white identity, which includes beliefs, culture, and privileges — a concept that has been researched increasingly since the early 1990s.
The statement went on to say that the college looks at the month as part of a larger conversation taking place across the country about race and social justice on college campuses, reports Alex Sundby for CBS News.
“The Project seeks to challenge the master narrative of race and racism through an exploration of the social construction of whiteness. Challenging the master narrative of traditional curriculum is a strategy within higher education that promotes multicultural education and equity.”
Topics for the month include a discussion about what whiteness is and how it is socially constructed; how whiteness emerges through imperialism, conquest, colonialism and the American enterprise; who benefits from the results of whiteness; alternatives to white supremacy; and approaches and strategies to putting an end to whiteness.
According to Meg Wagner for New York Daily News, proposals for the month were first accepted by organizers of the event, a panel of one of the college’s diversity councils, back in October. However, it was not until recently, with Black History Month coming up in February, that it has garnered national attention.
Critics of the event have argued that it was created not as a way to discuss the high volume of accomplishments performed by white people but rather is an effort to bring shame onto the white population, with one website accusing the school of looking to “trash white Americans.” The American Conservative even referred to the event as “white hatey month.”
Kelley responded to these arguments by saying that the hope is to open a dialogue on the issues, and that there was never an intention to “shame or blame” anyone, writes Shamar Walters for NBC News.
Her statement went on to say that it is the responsibility of the school to help in continuing the conversation that the idea of whiteness sparks. While doing so will be uncomfortable and challenging, she said the school is committed “to take intentional action to advance diversity, equity and inclusion.”
In total, the college enrolled 89,903 full-time and part-time students for the 2013-14 school year. That year, 68% of the student population was white, 11% Hispanic, 8% Asian and 6% African-American.