Colorado Students Earn Credit for ‘Unmasking Whiteness’

Toni Airaksinen, Campus Reform, 1 May 2018

The University of Colorado-Colorado Springs is awarding three academic credits exclusively to white students who attend a conference dedicated to “white privilege.” 

The “Unmasking Whiteness” conference will convene students and educators from across the United States this July in North Hollywood, California to explore “how being white shapes our lives” and “discover our role as white people in struggle for social justice.” 

Only open to self-identifying white people, the four-day conference is co-organized by Shelly Tochluk, a professor at Mount Saint Mary’s University (MSMU) in Los Angeles, and is offered by the nonprofit AWARE-LA (Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere). 

The recently-released conference brochure explains that attendees will learn about topics including “white privilege,” “guilt and shame,” “what it means to be white in today’s society,” and the “economic benefits” of whiteness. 

“U.S. society does not usually ask white people to explore how race affects our lives,” the brochure states. “When we honestly grapple with this question we become able to recognize the various ways we receive social and economic benefits based on being seen as part of the white group.” 

The brochure also notes that while deconstructing whiteness can release feelings of “guilt and shame,” working through these emotions is crucial because they “often lead to paralysis and an inability to effectively participate in movements for change.” 

“Working through these negative emotions is essential to building a solid anti-racist practice,” the brochure tells students. 

Though MSMU is listed as the conference co-sponsor, academic credit for attendance is only offered through the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, which explains that the credits can be applied toward a Graduate Certificate in Diversity, Social Justice, and Inclusion.

That graduate certificate also awards credit for attendance at the White Privilege Conference and the annual conference of the Knapsack Institute, which helped popularize the theory that white people enjoy an “invisible knapsack” of unearned privileges. 

Tochuck told Campus Reform by email that Mount Saint Mary’s University had co-sponsored the conference in the past, but not this year. Instead, this year’s conference is staffed by volunteer facilitators, and Tochuck described it as a “labor of love.” 

“All production, implementation, and facilitation is done by volunteers. None of us are compensated monetarily in any way,” she explained, adding that no professors from UC-Colorado Springs have been involved in organizing the conference. 

Nonetheless, students must pay a $486 tuition for the course, as well as “additional program fees,” in order to receive credit for attendance.

Campus Reform reached out to UC-Colorado Springs to ask just what this tuition fee pays for—as it appears no school professors are involved in facilitating this program—but did not receive a response despite repeated requests. 

Follow the author of this article @Toni_Airaksinen





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