Hamline News

Exploring the Challenges of Racism, Privilege and Power During J-Term

On Tuesday, January 29, Hamline community members spent the morning with Robin DiAngelo, PhD, the New York Times bestselling author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism during a professional development opportunity offered by the Office of Inclusive Excellence.

The audience inside the Anderson Center included approximately 150 faculty, staff, administrators, students and members of the Board of Trustees who had braved subzero temperatures for the three-hour session titled, “Exploring the Challenges of Racism, Privilege and Power: In the Classroom, Across the Institution, Throughout the Community.” The proceedings were also available via live stream for those unable to attend in person.

“I was pleased to see so many people here on such a cold day,” said Hamline’s associate vice president for inclusive excellence, Dr. David Everett, who had invited DiAngelo to campus. ”We had to add chairs to the room.”

During the session, DiAngelo summarized the concept of white fragility and how she and others believe it perpetuates racism inherent in U.S. culture, institutions and systems. Periodically, participants interacted with each other in pairs and small groups during “turn and talks” based on questions and scenarios DiAngelo presented.

“DiAngelo challenged us to address our own white fragility and to realize that white racial stress is an opportunity for change. I left the event thinking about my own racial stamina,” said Trish Harvey, an assistant professor and director for Hamline’s School of Education doctoral program.

In first announcing DiAngelo’s presentation, Everett sent an email to campus faculty and staff about the conversations he hoped to start with the event, explaining that talking about racism in an open manner ties directly to Hamline University’s mission and institutional goals.

“These are important subjects as they play an important role in shaping today’s society. But for us as higher education professionals, we find that these conversations can influence student retention and access to education, which is a core task in our mission,” Everett wrote.

The announcement of DiAngelo’s visit motivated Hamline faculty and staff on campus to discuss the concepts raised in her book ahead of the presentation.

The Staff Diversity Development Initiative hosted a reading circle on the topic of race and whiteness on Wednesday, January 9. Participants watched DiAngelo’s video, “Why I Am Not Racist is Only Half the Story,” and read and discussed Michael Eric Dyson’s forward in White Fragility.

The Diversity Initiatives Steering Committee (DISC), in collaboration with the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), hosted three reading groups to discuss White Fragility.

Different groups of 25–30 people attended these meetings held on the Tuesday afternoons of January 8, 15 and 22. In addition, DISC and CTL handed out over 150 copies of the book, paid for by the College of Liberal Arts and Dr. Everett’s office.

Assistant professor of public health and DISC representative from the College of Liberal Arts Susi Keefe facilitated one of the Tuesday sessions. She reported that, “The goal was to get people to talk and engage and begin the necessary work.”

She noted that the reading group helped her understand that, “We’re all arriving [at these conversations] from a different place.”

DiAngelo’s campus appearance and her presentation seems to have catalyzed additional dialogues and actions. 

After attending the event, Professor Harvey said, “We need to seek and welcome feedback on our own racist impacts if we hope to dismantle institutional racism.”

She continued, “Fortunately, I was sitting next to a colleague from the School of Education, and during reflection exercises, we were able to discuss ways to keep this work and these conversations going in our department.”

What’s Ahead?

In addition to individual efforts to maintain momentum inspired by DiAngelo’s presentation, Everett announced several new initiatives that will be taking place on campus in the coming months. These include:

  • A cohort from Hamline will attend the Facilitating Racial Equity Collaborative Institute in February.
  • The Intercultural Development InventoryⓇ (IDIⓇ), a tool to develop intercultural competence, will be rolled out to campus departments.
  • Betsy Parrish has been named the CTL faculty fellow for Supporting Linguistically Diverse Students. This collaborative position will support the efforts of the Provost’s Office and the Office for Inclusive Excellence.

Dr. Everett will continue to hold small group listening sessions with members of the campus community.

Written by staff.