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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Students seek to uncover ‘white privilege’

Race has always been a divisive issue, but some hope to unite around an innovative approach that attempts to bridge that divide.

This evening, Sigma Lambda Beta with the help of the Cross Cultural Center (CCC) will be holding an event called “Uncovering Whiteness,” a presentation on white privilege from 6 to 8 p.m. in Wellman 126.

Guest speaker Laurie Lippin will facilitate the discussion as well as offer her own views from her studies of racism and race-based privilege. Lippin, a professor of a community and regional development class, co-founded the organization Equity Action, which offers diversity training and consulting in cultural competency throughout the country. The event will also include a poetry reading by CCC intern Johnathen Duran.

Lippin explained that the purpose of the presentation is to get students thinking about the issue in a new way.

“‘Uncovering Whiteness’ refers to some of the dynamics around whiteness,” she said. “We don’t talk about it the way we talk about other things. Back when this country was founded, people were called ‘German,’ or ‘Spanish’ or ‘English.’ When did we become ‘white’? What does being white imply past just your skin tone?”

Jason Pabón, member of the Latino-based social fraternity Sigma Lambda Beta, invited Lippin to speak at and facilitate the event after taking her class last Spring. Pabón, a junior economics and international relations double major, encourages potential attendees to not assume that the event is just another inconclusive talk about race.

“The purpose of this is to get people thinking about the privileges they have in society whether it’s based on race, skin tone, religion or whatever,” he said. “You need to be able to recognize what advantages you have over the guy sitting next to you and know what advantages he has over you. We need to stop taking things for granted because these inequalities and injustices still exist.”

However, some disagree that there is any social gain from merely being “white.”

Junior physics major Robert Mazzola calls himself white, although his background represents what he considers two groups that are historically highly discriminated against – Italians and Native Americans.

“Grouping us all under this label of ‘white’ doesn’t help address the prejudices that we also face,” Mazzola said. “I’ve never experienced any privilege from being white. My family has never had a lot of money. We’ve had to work our way from the ground up. Yet people still say there’s such an advantage to being white.”

In fact, Mazzola believes the opposite.

“I think part of the reason I was accepted at UCD was because I put down that I was Native American,” Mazzola said. “And my dad’s been in and out of work. I feel like it would’ve been easier if he was a minority because everyone is looking for diversity. If I thought it would help on job applications to put that I’m white, then I would. But it doesn’t help.”

Nevertheless, some insist that having a perspective like Mazzola’s present at the discussion is integral.

Junior international agricultural development major Christina Ortiz noted that there weren’t many “white” people planning to attend.

“If you’re going to have a discussion about a certain type of people, then it’s essential to have them there,” she said. “They need to represent themselves. We all have privileges and disadvantages based on who we are, but a lot of people feel like talking about this won’t change anything. But, even if there is argument [at the event], at least it starts a dialogue. To gain a better understanding of people’s struggles, we must create allies from other communities.”

Lippin acknowledged the varied views on this controversial topic, but maintained the importance of this discussion.

“I like the enthusiasm students have to bring this into their life and grapple with it,” she said. “There’s lots of diversity on this campus, but not enough cross-racial relations. We don’t even have to agree as long as we talk about it.”

KYLE SPORLEDER can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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