Students filled two large rooms Smith Memorial Center last Thursday to hear more about the topic of whiteness.
The discussion was titled “Talking About ‘White Privilege’: Do ‘Whiteness Studies’ Have Any Relevance for Institutions of Higher Education?”
The discussion was part of the Focus on Diversity Series 2001-2002. The series consists of discussions relating to diversity, teaching and student learning.
Faculty, students and staff are invited to attend the monthly sessions on the third Thursday of every month.
Devorah Lieberman, vice provost and special assistant to University President Daniel Bernstine, said the speakers of the diversity events are chosen because they are experts in the topic. The speaker for this discussion was Jos퀌� Pad퀌_n, an assistant professor in the department of sociology.
“He is a remarkable human being with an unbelievable gentle soul,” Lieberman said.
According to the Focus on Diversity Web site, a shift has occurred during the last decade in the study of race and ethnic relations in the United States.
People of color have been considered a social problem; whiteness studies focuses on “white culture,” or “whiteness,” as the social problem.
Pad퀌_n started the discussion by reading from a paper he composed for the event. During the course of the event, he examined what white studies is, the history of white studies and what the implications are for white studies.
Pad퀌_n explained how people of color have historically been termed as a “problem”. The slander of character for a person of color transfers to a slander of an entire population that is not the case for white people.
“Transgressions of other whites is not held against you,” Pad퀌_n said.
Pad퀌_n explained people are born as symbols not as individual persons. Pad퀌_n said people of color, especially African American people, are a symbol for “less than.”
Pad퀌_n said that whiteness is a real resource, pointing out that immigrants tried to legalize their whiteness as they entered the United States. People know what being white means in America.
Pad퀌_n said the notion of whiteness is large enough to incorporate different racial groups. For example, a group of people of Hispanic descent were opposed to declaring they were Mexican on the United Sates census. This group claimed they were a “different kind of white.” Now the census does not have a category if a person is Mexican but instead there is a new category for people from a Hispanic culture.
In the past, to question someone’s whiteness (if the person was actually white) caused economic damage for that person. Pad퀌_n pointed out that this was one of the many ways messages are sent that whiteness is in fact a real resource.
Pad퀌_n discussed the implications for people who posses this resource of “whiteness” and take it for granted or defend it.
“The advantages of whiteness cannot be had without putting someone else down,” Pad퀌_n said.
Pad퀌_n said it is the responsibility of white people to recognize the rewards of giving up an illegitimate resource such as “whiteness.” If white people gave up some of those rewards then perhaps people of color would be able to succeed in ways that have not always been possible.
Pad퀌_n also addressed the issue of raising standards of education at the university level. Pad퀌_n proposed the standards should be raised once the student is here, not before the student has a chance to get in the university.
“Education is supposed to be a place where we open, not close doors,” Pad퀌_n said.
The discussion on diversity ended with a dialogue with audience members.
The Focus on Diversity series is sponsored by the Center for Academic Excellence, the Office of Affirmative Action and the President’s Diversity Action Council.