Pennsylvania’s West Chester University has become the center of a racism controversy this week, following the appearance of some “White Students’ Union” fliers around campus, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Accusations of racism and suspicion of white supremacist activity began to fly around campus, with some students suspecting the group had been created to “mock” or “spite” the Black Students Union and other diversity-based organizations on campus.
Upon further investigation, University President Pam Sheridan found that the quasi-fictional WSU was actually “designed to bring antiracist allies together” and provoke discussion about race and racial issues. West Chester University sent out an email this past Wednesday saying that the group did not exist – “there is no White Students’ Union, and there is no meeting” – and that the flier was only designed to promote dialogue.
If anything, being an overwhelmingly (over 80%) white school, West Chester University needs a White Students’ Union more than many other schools. Of course, no college wants white supremacist or racist activity on its campus. However, if University President Sheridan’s assessment of this group is correct, that this group was designed to bring anti-racist allies together, then all schools need White Students’ Unions.
News flash: White people exist, and they have points of view.
It is a sad fact that so many of us in the anti-racist movement consider Whites’ perspectives in cross-cultural relations to be secondary at best (unwelcome at worst). While Whites are undoubtedly the group in power in America (the historical “ingroup” since America’s inception), to say that a discussion about racism only requires participation from people of color is counterproductive. In fact, one could question if such a discussion is productive at all — if I, as a Black man, agree with a room full of Black people that a particular thing is racist, if we do not inform non-Black people of this fact, will any of us Blacks see a decrease in our level of offense taken? Do Whites not need to hear our concerns? Do we not even need to hear Whites’ issues regarding race relations?
White people exist and need to be treated as such if any discussion about racism is going to be fruitful. While I do not believe the University’s action was per se anti-white discrimination – this was not the “exclusion of Western European culture” like one Daily Local commenter implied – the fact that this group is not going to exist means that once again, we have fostered an “anti-racist” environment where every group but whites is entitled to a safe discussion space. Is there even a possibility that there are things anti-racist White people may feel more comfortable discussing in a White discussion group – where they may feel less pre-judged as an “oppressor” or member of a group in power – than in a diverse group? Has anyone asked any White people?
In fact – since there is no place called “Whiteland” – “whiteness” is also a social construct. How can we discuss this construct, and its deconstruction (along with the deconstruction of white privilege, etc.), without White people being able to have a forum to speak about it?
A “whites only” social clique of course has no place on a 21st-century university campus. Nor does racism, intolerance, or bigotry. But to have an education environment where all viewpoints are equally represented means representing White people’s points of view.
White people deserve to have the same forums to voice their concerns as anyone else – to say otherwise, well, wouldn’t it be racist?