February is just around the corner, so take a second and think back to your second grade class, when other than writing your mom a thank you note on a sparkly red heart on the 14th, the rest of the month was dedicated to celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. along with other influential African-American leaders in the United States. Black History Month has been a part of our education system since the 1970s, and it all started because of a student group at Kent State University.
Well, 2016 might be the beginning of a new tradition in the United States.
Students at Oregon’s Portland Community College are “engaging in a bold adventure” known as “Whiteness History Month: Context, Consequences, and Change,” according to the project’s webpage. But this does not mean that 50 years from now, our grandchildren will be dressing up like George Washington and quoting Albert Einstein. It is actually the complete opposite. So do not get your “there is no such thing as white racism” speeches out just yet.
A subcommittee of PCC’s Cascade Campus Diversity Council has built a curriculum for the month of April, ranging from presentations and guest lecturers to art and film analyses in order to hopefully “inspire innovative and practical solutions to community issues and social problems that stem from racism,” the webpage states.
The program will explore the origins and construction of whiteness, white supremacy and the racism that evolved from it. With the school’s website sharing that 68 percent of its student population is Caucasian, members of the council began this project in hopes of raising racial awareness in the student body.
“We view this project as part of a larger national conversation around race and social justice on America’s college campuses,” PCC Interim President Sylvia Kelley said in a statement on the college’s website.
Although NBC reported that the project immediately received mounds of criticism claiming that its goal was to shame the white race, the college has addressed and discounted the disapproval, and the council plans to continue.
Race incidents on college campuses are more common than we would like to think. At Boston University, we have the privilege of studying under an extremely diverse and accepting environment for students and faculty, but the truth is that our campus is not a common reality. Just search “campus racial incidents” on Google, and you will be provided with a list of hundreds of cases of injustice and discrimination that occurred in 2015 alone, not to mention the hundreds before that and the hundreds that are not documented.
The bottom line is that this is happening. There are students that do not feel safe walking to class or living in a campus dorm, and instead of handling these incidents within the university and moving on, this needs to keep being a national conversation. And that is exactly what PCC is trying to do. It is encouraging students to challenge their assumptions and explore beyond their comfort zone into the origin of this issue.
PCC’s website defines whiteness as “construction of the white race, white culture, and the system of privileges and advantages afforded to white people … through government policies, media portrayal, decision-making power within our corporations, schools, judicial systems.” It is a “socially and politically constructed behavior,” and it is one that needs to be addressed in these institutions where it is a threat. Setting apart a whole month to discuss and educate a new generation on the impact of racism seems like a good place to start.