Dartmouth prof calls for mandatory white privilege courses

A Dartmouth College sociology professor called on universities to require students to take courses on white privilege and black history. 

Dr. Emily Walton argued in a USA Today op-ed that, “if racial equity is to be an achievable goal,” then students should be required to take courses on these topics before they graduate. 

The professor proceeds to state that she teaches a course on these topics, claiming that the “small handful of white students in the class usually learn the most.” 

“That’s because for the first time in their lives, they begin to look at themselves as members of a racial group,” she explains. “They understand that being a good person does not make them innocent but rather they, too, are implicated in a system of racial dominance.”

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Walton refers to “white blindness,” or a state in which racial privilege is invisible, claiming that, during the course, her white students “awaken to the notion” that racism systematically advanced white people while keeping all others down.

Going further, the professor claims that white blindness is no accident, but that public K-12 schools perpetuate a culture of “white blindness” by not “requiring white students to contend with history in an inclusive, critical way,” referencing ethnic studies initiatives taken in a few states.

More that she identifies to be problematic is that our contemporary education system teaches white students that they are no more than individuals participating in “a meritocratic system where their hard work earns them just rewards.”

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The professor claims that white students are often ignorant about past policy outcomes that have allowed them to benefit while leaving others behind. She cites affirmative action from the G.I. bill, the federal government keeping suburbs white, “and how mass incarceration and felon disenfranchisement give their white voices more say in our democracy.”

“Arguably the greatest tragedy, however, is that people of color, like white people, do not question American cultural messages of individual responsibility and equal opportunity,” Walton says. “Because they are taught a white-centered history, they may internalize a narrative of personal failure for their social and economic standing.”

Walton moves on to her final notion that “good intentions aren’t enough.” 

According to Dr. Walton, white students don’t see racial inequality as a problem because they have avoided these discussions until coming to college. She claims that most students who take courses on such topics are racial minorities and says it is “an injustice...that only these students take on the burden of learning about, critiquing and challenging the system of oppression.”

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“Requiring a course on race and ethnicity for all college students would send the message that both the university and society value the kind of learning that produces informed and critical citizens for a world after graduation,” the professor states. “We can’t just drift into racial equity with good intentions, nor put much hope in generational change. We need to actively, purposefully take the blinders off.”

One student with whom Campus Reform spoke did not seem thrilled with the professor’s proposal.

”While this area of study is undoubtedly important, in an era where the liberal arts college has strayed even further from its classical roots and medieval origin, I’ll be honest that this is not the kind of change to the core curriculum I desire,” Harvard student Carlos Wilcox told Campus Reform.

Walton, Dartmouth’s College Republicans and Democrats chapters, and other students did not respond to requests for comment in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AlexTokie