Peter Fricke Investigative Reporter @FrickePete on Jan 18, 2016 at 8:22 AM EDT
Portland Community College has designated April "Whiteness History Month" (WHM), an "educational project" exploring how the "construct of whiteness" creates racial inequality.
"'Whiteness History Month: Context, Consequences, and Change' is a multidisciplinary, district-wide, educational project examining race and racism through an exploration of the construction of whiteness, its origins, and heritage," PCC states on its website. "Scheduled for the month of April 2016, the project seeks to inspire innovative and practical solutions to community issues and social problems that stem from racism."
The WHM site makes clear that the project is not a "celebratory endeavor" like heritage months, but is rather "an effort to change our campus climate" by "[challenging] the master narrative of race and racism through an exploration of the social construction of whiteness." ("Challenging the master narrative," PCC explains, "is a strategy within higher education that promotes multicultural education and equity.")
The initiative was conceived by a subcommittee of PCC’s Cascade Campus Diversity Council, which noticed that "evidence from hiring data, student-led research, surveys, focus groups, college-wide emails, and other sources have illuminated the underlying reality of whiteness embedded in the overall college climate." In response, the subcommittee decided that "intentional action" was necessary across the district's four campuses to honor PCC's strategic plan, which calls on the college to "create a nationally renowned culture for diversity, equity, and inclusion."
According to a sub-page defining the term (adapted from a definition developed by the University of Calgary), whiteness "does not simply refer to skin color[,] but [to] an ideology based on beliefs, values, behaviors, habits, and attitudes, which result in the unequal distribution of power and privilege based on skin color."
Not only does the concept of whiteness allow those who are "socially deemed white" to accrue benefits, the page asserts, but those benefits "are accrued at the expense of people of color, namely in how people of color are systemically and prejudicially denied equal access to those material benefits."
The ideology of whiteness, it continues, dates back to "at least the seventeenth century, [when] 'white' appeared as a legal term and social designator determining social and political rights," a concept that eventually grew to include "thousands" of "special privileges and protections" for white citizens.
For those interested in learning even more about the study of whiteness, PCC provides a link to a portal on the school library's site listing additional resources.
Planning for the event is still ongoing, with applications being accepted until February 1 from those who wish to "get engaged" by hosting a lecture, guest speaker, panel, film screening, discussion, art exhibit, or class field trip to local art or history museums.
Representatives for PCC had not responded by press time to Campus Reform's inquiries as to whether professors would be allowed to assign grades for participating in field trips or on-campus events.
While details about the specific programming are not yet available, PCC does outline the objectives that it seeks to accomplish through the project, as well as the concepts it would like students to explore over the course of the month.
In the "Context" category, for instance, the school challenges students to explore the meaning and history of whiteness, specifically how it "[emerged] from a legacy of imperialism, conquest, colonialism, and the American enterprise."
Following from that, PCC wants students to explore the "legal, cultural, economic, social, environmental, educational, and/or intrapersonal consequences of whiteness," especially in terms of the winners and losers that result from it.
Finally, the school asks them to consider "alternatives to a culture of white supremacy ... approaches and strategies to dismantling whiteness ... [and] the roles and responsibilities of white people and people of color in dismantling whiteness."
Through the event, PCC says it hopes to improve its campus climate and bolster student retention and success, while also helping students to graduate "with local, national, and global sensibilities regarding the learning tasks of Critical Race Theory."
Campus Reform has not been able to reach spokespersons for PCC, but this story will be updated if and when they provide a response.