The Gustavian Weekly

Understanding white privilege at Gustavus: 20th annual White Privilege Conference inspires discussion on campus | The Gustavian Weekly

By Emily VanGorder - Staff Writer | May 10, 2019 | News

On Tuesday, May 7, a group of faculty, staff, and administration members held a talk titled “Understanding and Interrupting White Privilege,” in which they discussed the White Privilege Conference they attended in March.

This year marked the 20th annual White Privilege Conference, which is hosted by the The Privilege Institute, a social justice-centered non-profit organization.

Their core values include consciousness-building, accountability and responsibility, providing intersectional content, and being purpose-driven in the fight for liberation, social justice, and equity. The mission statement of the White Privilege Conference is to “provide a challenging, collaborative, and comprehensive experience,” and to “empower and equip individuals to work for equity and justice through self and social transformation.”

The conference was held from March 20-23 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

The discussion began with an introduction of the definition of white privilege, which was defined as “the other side of racism.”

“Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do. Access to privilege doesn’t determine one’s outcomes, but it is definitely an asset that makes it more likely that whatever talent, ability, and aspirations a person with privilege has will result in something positive for them,” American Activist Peggy McIntosh said.

Everyone who attended the conference then shared their experiences at the conference.

A contemplative activity was introduced, in which everyone paired up and shared experiences with race on campus, after which a large group discussion was held to analyze any common experiences.

Participants then were asked to evaluate Gustavus’ current level of multiculturalism. Different ideas of how to make campus more multicultural and tolerant were shared in six stages, each with a specific focus.

Margaret Bloch-Qazi, Carlos Mejia, Janet Jennings, Anthony Bettendorf, Maggie Falenschek, Carly Overfelt, and Hannah Godbout made up the group of Gustavus administration, staff, and faculty who attended the conference.

“This group is one of the reasons I so loved the conference. It was a great time to get to know colleagues better, it was a nice mix of faculty, administration, and staff, and we ate out at the best places,” Assistant Professor in Education Lisa Dembouski said.

A number of sessions addressing a wide variety of topics were attended by Gustavus employees, including “Answering the Call: Exploring Post-Traumatic Master’s Syndrome and Embodied Racial Justice,” “The Privilege to Use B.S. (Bad Stats): How White Privilege Perpetuates Biases Against Black Students’ Schools,” “Toxic Feminism: When Intersectionality Isn’t Enough,” and “Black Girl Magic: Empowering White Moms and Educator.”

“I attended a range of sessions including the keynotes- Ritu Bhasin and Heather Hackman were two of my favorites- and several worships with titles like “Creating Socially Just Organizations: Dismantling Institutionalized Racism and White Supremacy,” “A Social Justice Warrior’s Survival Guide,” “Strategies for Creating Inclusive Community at Predominantly White Institutions,” and, what was maybe my favorite one of all, “Our Stories Become Us,” Dembouski added.

A number of presentations and demonstrations, including films, TEDx Talks, projects, presentations, books, and guides were incorporated into the three-day conference.

“Our participation at the White Privilege Conference was aligned with Gustavus’ strategic plan… with goal number one being to diversify and expand the Gustavus community,” Professor Margaret Bloch-Qazi said.

“More specifically, the Gustavus group goals were to develop and expand understanding of white privilege and its impacts on the lives of the Gustavus community, build a community… around issues of equity and inclusion, and to better understand how race impacts the Gustavus experience,” Bloch-Qazi added.

“I loved the conference, took away a ton of great things from it, and I recommend it highly to anyone who’d like to see for themselves… I felt to fortunate to get the chance to go, and encourage anyone to jump at the chance to go themselves, should that opportunity present itself,” Dembouski said.

Reactions among Gustavus employees included “appreciation for the opportunity to be challenged to explore privilege at both personal and institutional levels, the time and space to interact with other Gustavus employees around issues of race and privilege, and the wealth of resources gained to bring back to the GAC community,” Bloch-Qazi said.

“Issues of privilege affect all of us, so it is valuable to identify it in our own lives as well as in the Gustavus community and wider world. Gustavus is doing many excellent things to support diversity, equity, and inclusion. I… look forward to seeing how Gustavus’ commitment to social justice and excellence leads us to grow stronger,” Bloch-Qazi stated.

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