Public univ. sponsors social justice conference to address 'white accountability,' 'microaggressions'

The University of Rhode Island co-sponsored a social justice education conference.

The school's College Republicans chairman said the event "skewed toward the Left."

It featured various sessions focused on race and social justice issues.

The University of Rhode Island sponsored a “Social Justice in Higher Education” conference, with speakers discussing topics such as “White Accountability,” “Addressing Microaggressions,” and more.

The conference was put on Wednesday by the New England College Personnel Association, with the University of Rhode Island being a co-sponsor. The focus of this year’s conference is specifically promoting “social justice education” and giving schools tips on how to educate students better on “anti-oppressive, liberatory, and critical frameworks,” according to the description.

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The conference hosted various sessions based on social justice education, such as the following:

  • “The Cost of Inclusion: Addressing the Class Struggle When Engaging Students Outside the Classroom”

  • “Supporting a Culture of White Accountability on Campus”

  • “When the Conversation Gets Quiet — 10 Ways to Facilitate Discussions on Sensitive Social Justice Issues with First Year Students”

  • “Enacting Racial Justice on Campus by Effectively Addressing Microaggressions”

  • “What is our social justice responsibility in teaching white students to become civically engaged?”

  • “Lessons in Allyship: Engaging White Colleagues in Anti-Racist Professional Development Efforts”

“Supporting a Culture of White Accountability on Campus” was hosted by Trish Moran and Emma Johnson, both graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The session seeks to describe how white persons’ accountability groups (WPAGs) are a force against racism.

Quoting author Beverly Daniel Tatum, the session description states that these groups “allow people to speak with more candor and honesty than is generally possible in mixed-race groups, avoid possibility of White people retraumatizing POCs, [and help] White people to get past feelings of guilt and shame and move into space of acceptance, where more effective ally work is possible.”

[RELATED: Georgetown class has students produce ‘social justice’ documentaries ‘for social action’]

Another session at the conference asks “What is our social justice responsibility in teaching white students to become civically engaged?”

That session poses a key question: “what is the responsibility of new student affairs professionals to help ensure that white students at [Predominantly White Institutions] have a sense of their own privilege and are not operating from a white savior complex in their work with communities?”

Emily Wall, a graduate student at Merrimack College, gave the presentation and suggested that universities can help shape the next generation of civic learners through a social justice lens.

“As student affairs professionals understand themselves fully as civic minded professionals, they can help develop the next generation of civic learners and democratically engaged undergraduate students (NASPA, 2016). This session helps the next generation of student affairs professional consider themselves fully in advancing the work of civic engagement and social justice in and through higher education,” states the description.

Ed Tarnowski, chairman of the University of Rhode Island College Republicans, told Campus Reform that while he supports the free exchange of ideas, conservative voices are not too present. He encouraged the university to invite more conservative-leaning speakers.

“It certainly seems that the event skewed towards the left,” Tarnowski said.

He went on to say that left-wing events and speakers have been “heavily favored,” and said the school needs to make attempts to diversify some of the speakers they bring.

“It is the University’s responsibility to expose students to a wide range of ideas and it is clear that the left-wing events and speakers have been heavily favored,” the chairman of the CR chapter said. “We hope that the University will make a stronger attempt at bringing in events/speakers from the other side of the aisle too.”

Campus Reform reached out to the University of Rhode Island for comment but did not receive one in time for publication. 

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