Columbia hosts 'deconstructing whiteness' workshop for 'white-identified students'

A 5-week "deconstructing whiteness" lecture series for “white-identified students” aims to facilitate the development of an “antiracist lens.”

The program is “intended to engage students from a public health perspective," according to one university official.

For weeks, Columbia University Health has been hosting Zoom workshops as part of a series titled “From Ally to Accomplice at Columbia: Working Group for Examining and Deconstructing Whiteness to Mitigate Racial Trauma.”

The weekly online “interactive curriculum,” which began July 7 and concludes Monday, is designed for “white-identified students” to “engage in exploration of their white identities and build community and accountability around deconstructing whiteness and white privilege to facilitate the development of an antiracist lens.”

“This virtual group aims to begin to equip students with the time, space, and skills for the self-reflection and processing of privilege that is necessary to meaningfully dismantle systems of racial oppression from a position that has privilege,” the university explained on its website.

[Related: Universities implement mandatory anti-racism training for students, faculty]

In an email that was reportedly sent to Columbia University Law students, the department said that the workshop “will not be a support group for white students. Nor will it be comfortable or easy.” 

“What it will be is a meaningful, challenging step for those who feel called in and ready to start taking their appropriate place in creating a more just Columbia community,” the email continued.

“There are numerous ways to address the issue of structural racism. This program is intended to engage students from a public health perspective,” Columbia Health Associate Director of Communications Gayle Gatchalian told Campus Reform. “The intent is to provide an alternative angle by which to tackle the issue.”

The department stated that the Zoom sessions had filled up following “overwhelming interest!”

But not all are sold on the initiative or its benefits.

“If you get an email like this one, just sent out to a bunch of Columbia U law students, you should politely ask to see the evidence of program efficacy your institution used when it decided to spend money on the particular program in question,” Jesse Singal, a former contributor to New York Magazine, said about the workshops.

[Related: U Illinois admits ‘white supremacy,’ ‘white privilege’ workshop is ‘not a debate’]

“I’d also be curious whether the university might be possibly opening itself up to legal trouble by officially promoting a program that says one group of students’ racial category needs to be ‘deconstructed.’ I honestly don’t know but it seems potentially problematic!” he continued.

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