Plans for Whiteness History Month Stirs Controversy

By Sebastian Kirchoff|October 5, 2015News, Special Coverage: "Whiteness" History Month|

“Whiteness: The construction of the white race, white culture, and the system of privileges and advantages afforded to white people in the U.S. (and across the globe) through government policies, media portrayal, decision-making power within our corporations, schools, judicial systems, etc.” [1]

Scheduled to begin in Apríl of 2016, Whiteness History Month: Context, Consequences and Change is a multidisiplinary, district-wide, educational project examining race and racism through an exploration of the construction of whiteness, its origins and heritage. The project seeks to inspire innovation and practical solutions to community issues and social problems that stem from racism.[2]

Faculty members and instructors at PCC are interested in the Whiteness Month Program and come from a variety of backgrounds, departments and campuses. Shannon Baird, a Construction Management instructor at Rock Creek campus, said “I support it [Whiteness History Month] because I believe it is an opportunity to help people understand how power is distributed in our country and who benefits and who is disadvantaged”. When asked if he would be including Whiteness History Month in his teaching, he said yes.

When asked if she would be including Whiteness History Month in her teaching; Jane Zunkel, a Literature instructor at Cascade campus responded “I am already using the core concepts of whiteness history month in my composition and literature courses. In my Writing 115 course, I teach an essay by Joseph Suina called “And Then I Went to School” about his childhood experiences as a Native American who grew up on a reservation and then went to boarding school and had most of his cultural traditions rooted out of him by white teachers who saw their practices as helpful in educating their students.  In English 204, I am teaching The Tempest, a play that addresses many aspects of early British colonialism. I am hoping to incorporate aspects of our WHM program into my spring courses”.

Not all staff members were ecstatic about the program. In an email thread introducing the program, several members of the PCC staff spoke out against the program. One person stated, “Their [Whiteness History Month} perspective on Western Civilization seems totaly negative to me.” Another commentator said that “whiteness is to me derogatory and polarizing.”

In response to the lengthy and heated debate, Acting President Sylvia Kelley stated in an email “It [Whiteness History Month] presents an opportunity to promote discussion, dialogue and learning across the college. We value the hard work of the committee which has been conducted with the support of leadership and is aligned with the college’s Strategic Plan and Core Outcomes.”

Along with the introduction of Whiteness History Month next April is also a program titled Race and Inclusion Conversations, a project hosted by the Rock Creek Diversity Council. These conversations are intended to create an open and supportive space for PCC staff and faculty to reflect upon questions on race, justice and community within our institution and the larger society. Also at Cascade campus are monthly discussions about race-related issues among faculty and staff titled Purposefully Dialogues about Race, in which students are invited.

This summer also kicked off Portland Community College’s first-ever comprehensive diversity and inclusion climate assessment. With the help of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race & Equity in Education, a quantitative survey; one for staff and faculty and one for students – was disseminated. The survey is continuing to be held until October 12th, so any students, faculty and staff that could not complete it this summer have a second chance. [3]

Staff and faculty are encouraged to contribute to Whiteness History Month. Educational formats of all sorts such as presentations, lectures, panel discussions, film and music analyses, workshops, plays and art are welcome. Proposals can be submitted to the Whiteness History Month planning committee at whm-group@pcc.edu. Proposals will be accepted between October 30th and Februrary 1st, 2016.[4][5]

More information about Whiteness History Month can be found at https://www.pcc.edu/about/diversity/cascade/whiteness-history-month/.

Editor’s Note: Material in italics appeared in the print edition, but was accidently omitted from the online version. It was added to the online version Oct 14.

Sources:

  1. https://www.pcc.edu/about/diversity/cascade/whiteness-history-month/whiteness.html
  2. https://www.pcc.edu/about/diversity/cascade/whiteness-history-month/
  3. https://upenn.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_egSIAczQgU85BuR
  4. https://www.pcc.edu/about/diversity/cascade/whiteness-history-month/get-engaged.html
  5. https://www.pcc.edu/about/diversity/cascade/whiteness-history-month/documents/application.pdf
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Sebastian Kirchoff

About Sebastian Kirchoff

Cascade Campus Editor, Sebastian Kirchoff is a current student at the Cascade Campus of PCC and is majoring in English/Creative Writing. His love for writing and attention for detail secured him a position with his high school paper in Clever, Missouri as a writer and correspondent and the trend continues with his current position with The Bridge. Along with his professional experience in sales and customer service he has also written several short films and two feature films. He has had one short play, titled The Hitman produced for the PCC Theater Arts Program in 2012. Originally from Los Angeles, Sebastian has lived in several locations throughout the nation but decided upon Portland, Oregon to stay. He is an avid film viewer and critic, along with being a vinyl record aficionado with a sizeable collection. When he is not at the Hollywood or Laurelhurst seeing a new film, he can be found sampling different craft beers throughout the city at the many breweries throughout Portland.