Profs look to turn 'white men' into 'social justice activists'

Two professors are leading a study to research ways to turn “straight white men” into “social justice activists.”

Victoria Svoboda and Jörg Vianden, both professors at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, quietly launched the “Challenging Straight White Men to Develop Positive Social Justice Advocacy” project in 2014 to “challenge straight white college men to develop a commitment and responsibility for fostering social justice.”

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Since the project’s inception, the two have interviewed more than 180 undergraduate students (half of whom identified as “heterosexual white men”) to uncover what motivates their “widespread apathy” towards social justice.

“Unless challenged effectively during college, heterosexual white men may leave college no more adept at functioning in a diverse world than when they entered,” the professors warn.

Through their research, Svoboda and Vianden found a few common explanations for why white men resist social justice, noting that some interviewees showed discomfort at the idea of “attending a diversity event by themselves,” while others expressed frustration that they “would be perceived as racist or homophobic until proven otherwise.”

As a solution, the professors encourage their white, male colleagues to intervene in “men’s spaces” on campus, specifically advising them to target “fraternities” and “athletic teams” for conversations designed to get them to “explore identity, to interrogate and challenge privilege, and to develop responsibility for acting in solidarity with marginalized peers.”

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“College educators, especially those who identify as heterosexual white men, must understand their responsibility to better engage male college students from privileged groups,” they write, adding that “the primary responsibility of developing social justice advocacy in straight white men should rest on college educators who identify as members of dominant social groups.”

The professors, who have funded their research with a university-sponsored grant, continue to interview students for their study, and Vianden even presented his preliminary findings at the national White Privilege Conference.

Campus Reform reached out to both professors for comment, and Svoboda confirmed that their research is ongoing, though Vianden did respond.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen