Student group holds talk on white privilege

by Allison Wickler

Ilana Lerman, a global studies and geography junior, said members of the Women’s Student Activist Collective began thinking about white privilege when they noticed most of their members were white.

The collective wasn’t created strictly for white members, but that’s what it became, she said.

As a result, the group sponsored a workshop Saturday for anyone interested in opening a formal dialogue about white privilege in the United States.

Attendees discussed personal heritage, identity, stereotypes and their views on discrimination in society at the group’s office in Coffman Union.

Lerman organized the event after she attended the White Privilege Conference, an annual national event held last spring.

At the conference, 500 to 600 people of diverse backgrounds discussed how privilege based on skin color ties into other social factors, such as religion and class, said Eddie Moore Jr., the conference’s organizer.

“What we work really hard to do is bring in diverse voices,” Moore said.

The discussion must move beyond skin-based privilege to discover how to build “a nation that is fair and just for everyone” in both institutional and personal settings, Moore said.

American Indian studies junior Amber Ruel, who attended the workshop, said though she is half Ojibwa and half white, she looks “white enough to pass,” so she is sometimes afforded privileges she feels she can’t accept because of her Ojibwa heritage.

However, she said the issue of white privilege is now being discussed more in academic settings, which makes her hopeful.

Other groups are trying to get involved in cross-cultural discussion on privilege.

Neuroscience junior IJ Okechukwu is co-founder of the Black Motivated Women student group, which, in part, plans to collaborate with other groups to address privilege in society.

Okechukwu gave the example of job interviews, where a black person might have to assimilate to the white community to understand the interviewer’s culture.

“You have to change things about yourself temporarily to get so far,” she said. “It’s unfortunate, but it happens.”

Not everyone agreed that being white always offered more advantages.

University sophomore Theresa Malone said some white people attribute their privilege to other factors, such as working hard, more than to the color of their skin.

“I don’t think being white necessarily provides you with opportunities,” she said.

Urban studies junior Andrew Bender Dahl, president of the political student group the College Greens, attended the workshop and said people with privilege need to be aware of it.

“It has to be two-sided,” he said. “I think the real problem for the most part is many people don’t realize it.”

He said the College Greens have also discussed white privilege with other cultural student groups like the Somali Student Association.

Lerman said awareness and education are important in understanding the white race, which white people themselves don’t often bring up in formal settings.

“Right now just talking about it is a pretty big action because it’s not done that often,” she said.