Leading Conversations About Racism on Predominantly White Campuses

On the subject of racism, there is plenty to talk about on college campuses. From the noose photo response to President Barack Obama’s first tweets as president, to racist fraternity chants, to the numerous deaths of unarmed black men by police — including the incident this summer when a University of Cincinnati police officer was indicted on murder charges. Even with this extensive list of topics, the silence can be palpable on predominantly white campuses. Campus student, faculty, and staff leaders are struggling to start, as well as stay in, the conversation.

On our campus at Elon University, we have been wrestling with how to best set up conversations so that students and colleagues can become more aware of individual and structural racism and build the skills to dismantle it.

But there are a few things that make this endeavor difficult.

People of majority identities don’t talk enough about racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, or other forms of oppression. It’s time people of majority identities talk about diversity as much as people with less dominant identities are forced to. It is a luxury to not have to think or talk about these issues, but it’s one we can no longer afford if we want a better campus climate and society.

Talking is difficult because we all have deeply held beliefs and lack multiple perspectives. For example, polls show that white people see racism as less prevalent than do black people, despite stark evidence to the contrary. Our own experiences have shown us that white and black families talk about race in very different ways. Black children are generally made aware of race and racism at an early age by people outside their homes, and so many black families are faced with placing the topic front and center to prepare children for the injustices they may encounter out in the world. Many white families either tend to avoid the topic altogether or tell their children that everyone is equal, suggesting a post-racial society.

Read More from Brooke Barnett, a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.