A student group formed to address “white privilege” at Ohio’s Kenyon College bars white members from asking questions of a person of color as part of a process to combat racism.
“Racism is a white people problem,” said the group’s student founder, Juniper Cruz—a self-described “Queer Afro-Latinx Muslim”—at the first meeting, which drew about 50 students.
The Whiteness Group, run through the school’s multicultural center, “works to educate students on whiteness, what it means to be white, and ways to deconstruct whiteness to work towards anti-racist actions,” Cruz said in an interview with The Thrill.
“The discussions explore what it means to be a white person while benefiting from societal privilege, as well as what it means to be a white ally to marginalized groups,” according to campus news reports from the Gambier, Ohio, college.
The group’s second meeting was attended by Rachel Kessler, an Episcopalian priest and chaplain of Kenyon College, who afterward wrote in an email to the school newspaper, “As white people, we can become paralyzed by our sense of shame for our racial privilege or by our fear of accidentally saying something problematic. Neither of those impulses are actually productive for combating racism and white supremacy.”
Founded as a Christian seminary for the formation of Episcopal clergy, Kenyon College opened its doors to women in 1969 and now takes great pride in its diversity, as well as its commitment to “green initiatives.”
“At Kenyon, we see diversity as central to who we are and what we do — an ideal of inclusiveness that we strive to put into practice every day,” the school’s website states. “We believe that it’s vital to foster diversity in all facets of campus culture, from the people who work and study here, to the experiences they have, to the environment in which they live — the spirit of the place.”
The Whiteness Group exemplifies the school’s quest for a certain sort of diversity typical of modern liberal arts colleges in America, where all opinions and viewpoints are welcome as long as they do not challenge the liberal Zeitgeist.
The group encourages a certain amount of debate but also has regulations.
“Some ground rules at the Snowden Multicultural Center’s Whiteness Group: If you have an unpopular opinion, speak up. No white person can ask a person of color questions; white people must try to answer their questions for themselves. And no spreading rumors about what people say during the meetings,” the Kenyon Collegian reported.
Cruz said the chief aim of the group is to create “a sustainable form of activism.”
“I decided to start this group last semester when I got tired of white people who would post these very intellectual and passionate statuses on their social media accounts, but that’s as far as their activism went,” Cruz said.