Course critiques 'superficiality' of 'dominant white culture'

The University of Colorado-Colorado Springs is offering a course this summer to teach students how to become “whiteness” educators in their home communities. 

Witnessing Whiteness” is an educational workshop series focusing on issues such as “dominant white culture” and “culture and appropriation,” and UCCS is offering students three graduate academic credits in exchange for implementing the series in their home communities.

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The curricula for the class is open source, and as such, all course materials are available online. One worksheet, for instance, encourages students to convene attendees for a group discussion centered around the “transformation of white culture overall.” 

According to Shelly Tochluk, the program’s creator, characteristics of white culture include “individualism, consumerism, meritocracy as an ideal, superficiality, competition, ambition, productivity, [and] extreme exploitation of labor/resources for profit.”

Facilitating dialogue can be difficult, so the curriculum includes a list of suggested discussion questions, such as “What does the dominant culture in the US look like?” and “What feelings come up as you discuss this? Why?”

“This IS hard work, and we need to both acknowledge it AND plan for how we can stay focused and motivated in the face of resistance and distress,” the worksheet says, encouraging facilitators to remain positive.

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The “Culture, Tradition, and Appropriation” workshop suggests that the student-facilitator lead a discussion on why statements about culture can be problematic.

Saying that “My culture is American culture,” for example, is problematic because it suggests the speaker may “assume that everyone in the U.S. has or should experience similar cultural traditions” or “ignore how American culture is a product of many different cultures.”

On the other hand, the curriculum notes that the sentiment could also have positive implications, such as helping people “feel a sense of belonging and therefore feel secure and rooted.”

[RELATED: UVA student: ‘American’ identity ‘the most blatant microaggression’]

According to the syllabus, students who wish to earn credit must not only organize and facilitate an 11-part series of workshops in their home community, but also fulfill an assessment log and write a final reflection.

The class is based on the book Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk About Race and How to Do It, which was written by Shelly Tochluk, now a professor at Mount Saint Mary’s University in California. 

As Campus Reform recently reported, Tochluk is also the creator of the “Unmasking Whiteness” conference. 

Though UCCS initially offered credit for attendance at “Unmasking Whiteness” too, the school severed ties with the conference last week after Campus Reform reported that attendance is limited to “self-identifying white people.” 

Campus Reform reached out to Tochuk for more information on the “Witnessing Whiteness” program, but did not receive a response in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen