10 Upper School students and eight faculty members attended the 17th Annual White Privilege Conference, which was held in Philadelphia. During the conference, we listened to keynote speakers and joined Youth Action Project (YAP), which was a space designed for high school students from across the country to hear each other’s stories.
The White Privilege Conference gave us the opportunity to explore areas of interest and discomfort. By participating in YAP, we were able to hear authentic examples of white privilege and supremacy that are overlooked in our day-to-day lives. On the second day of the conference, we took a break from discussions and conversations and went outside to embark on an adventure that changed our outlooks and perspectives. We did an activity known as, “Step into the Circle: Recognizing Privilege and Power.” During this exercise, we were on the outside of a large circle. We were asked questions such as, “Are you easily able to find makeup in your skin color? If so, step into the circle” or “Are most politicians the same gender as you? If so, step into the circle.” After responding to around 15 questions, we had a discussion as a group about this activity. Some people shared that they felt embarrassed, upset and worried. One boy even expressed that he felt undeserving of continually stepping forward. This exercise opened our minds beyond black and white inequality. As a white female, one might respond to many questions by stepping forward, however, as a female at YAP shared, there were questions that caused our feet to feel like they were glued to the ground beneath us. The fact that our society is struggling with such injustice is beyond words. Finishing up our conversation about this activity, someone shared, “People with privilege are no better than people without; it’s a matter of society.” The White Privilege Conference showed us that we have the power to change this inequality in our communities.
Another YAP activity we participated in was affinity groups, which were defined to us as a group of people with a linking common interest or purpose openly discussing a topic with a common goal or focus in mind. They explained that before we could get into a discussion about white privilege as a whole group, we first needed to discuss in separate racial groups. We were divided by white, mixed race and POC (people of color). Within those groups we were asked questions relating to white privilege that were directed toward how our race, in particular, is affected by white privilege. We met in these groups several times throughout the conference, and it was a safe space for us to discuss opinions and questions directly related to our racial identity. We then took what we had learned in these smaller affinity circles into the larger group. Being in these groups gave us clearer understandings of our goals for the conference and how to approach the topic of white privilege in the future.
One of the most eye opening keynote speakers at WPC was Jim Loewen, a historian and sociologist. He talked about the censorship of American and world history taught in schools across America, stating, “History can be a weapon. Any minute it can be used against you.” He mentioned his personal experiences with an improper teaching of history about issues regarding people of color in his early years as a college professor, which lead him to write a new textbook that accurately taught American history uncensored. Mr. Loewen taught us to dig deeper into historical topics we learn about and to check for accuracy.
After attending WPC, we realized that there is a need for diversity education at Baldwin. When we returned from the conference, we met for lunch and discussed that it would be beneficial to the community if we bring back some of the things we learned and incorporate them into life at Baldwin. One idea that we came up with was creating a diversity day or our own diversity conference. We think that Diversity Day should resemble any mandatory workshop day just as Arts Day or Service Day. Diversity Day would consist of many workshops throughout the school day, helping others who want to educate themselves about the different forms of diversity highlighted in our school community. This day would also reach students who are not confortable talking about certain forms of diversity, and help open their eyes, ears and hearts about ways that we can improve our school environment in order to help the world. We could do many different sessions with the diversity exercises that we have taken away from this and other diversity conferences and incorporate them into our own community.
Over the weekend, each student had different perspectives about each topic and spoke their minds. WPC was an open space where anyone could be anyone. It was a great experience that each student was grateful for attending.
Co-authors: Tara McMahon ’18, Sydney Parmet ’19, Oona Maloney ’18, Nira Kotay ’19, Bria Beauvais ’18, Destiny Brown ‘19