The University of Iowa Campus looking west from Old Capitol and the Pentacrest.

Heading into what white means


By Kit Fitzgerald

This week, the University of Iowa Chief Diversity Office is hosting several opportunities to discuss a unique topic of racial equality: white identity.

“This event is an opportunity for folks who identify as white to come
together and talk about what allyship looks like and racial equity and racial justice work,” said Kyra Seay, the communications coordinator for the Chief Diversity Office. “It’s a chance for people to talk about their race and racial experience.”

The Diversity Resources team runs workshops in the BUILD certificate program, Seay said. One such workshop is called “A Closer Look at Racism in America,” which discusses race and its part in America. Seay said when the topic of whiteness comes up, the time runs out as people want to keep talking on the subject.

This workshop inspired the weeklong event “Exploring White Identity for Effective Allyship.”

“Oftentimes, when we talk about diversity work, we focus in on other racial identities and hardly ever do we think about the inclusion of white identity,” Seay said. “But that’s what diversity is about. We all have a role in building a solution to some of the challenges within our society.”

The event has three sessions. The first session was March 23, aimed toward students. Another session on Monday was primarily for community members, and the final session will be Wednesday.

“It’s important for the work that we do is that we work with all the different elements of campus,” Seay said. “We’re very intentional about collaboration across campus.”

UI student Sean Finn said he heard about the event on Facebook. He said he wanted to take this chance to reflect on race, especially his own race, and see how he can use his white privilege to be an ally.

The sessions begin with a discussion about civility, respect, and making a comfortable environment for the rest of the evening.

Clips from the documentary *Mirrors of Privilege* were played, and there were breaks for the participants to discuss the film as a group or with partners. Panel speakers stood by in case there is a lull in conversation.

Laurie Haag, a program developer for Women’s Resource and Action Center and facilitator at the event, said the responses to the event have been good.

“I think people are interested in having the conversation. I thought people were pretty enthusiastic in the two sessions so far,” Haag said. “I think people are seeing the problems that are resulting from a system that’s got some bad parts in it and they want to be part of [the solution].”

Seay said there is some worry that people might misinterpret the purpose of the event, but when people show confusion they are encouraged to reach out or come to the event.

“I remember the first time I saw a poster for an event that was about white privilege. It made me look twice because that wasn’t a term I was yet familiar with when I saw this poster. I thought, ‘Are you kidding me’ ”? Haag said. “Then I did a little investigation and found out what it meant and thought, ‘OK, this is pretty cool.’ ”

Haag said she did not think people at the sessions misinterpreted the message.

“I had a lot of people come up after both [sessions] and say I’m really glad because we need to be having these conversations,” Haag said. “This is really important.

Finn said he thought the event was great.

“There was some really good conversation and reflection,” he said. “It left me with a lot to think about in the coming days.”

Seay said that like all diversity work, this event was the first step in a long process.

“Excluding conversation about white identity inhibits us from truly achieving our goals of being an inclusive welcoming aware space,” she said. “So we’re going to try it and see where it takes us.”

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