University holds segregated retreats to build racial tolerance

In an effort to promote racial tolerance, Oregon State University is hosting two “social justice retreats” this weekend—one for white students, and another for students of color.

According to The Daily Caller, both retreats will take place from Friday to Sunday, during which time white attendees will learn about concepts such as “white privilege,” “microaggressions,” and “institutional racism,” while the retreat for non-white students will also focus on “[empowering] students of color.”

OSU’s Office of Diversity and Cultural Engagement, which is sponsoring the retreats, explains on its website that the retreats are intended “to promote a campus dialogue about race and racism,” as well as to help the school community “engage in the active exploration of the concept of race and how race impacts our lived experiences and interactions.”

The “Examining White Identity” retreat—which is reserved exclusively for students who “self-identify” as white—“focuses on White identity development, White privilege, and oppression in both personal and institutional contexts, while introducing strategies to dismantle oppressive systems,” according to an online summary.

After being briefed on those concepts, the description continues, participants “will look at ways that understanding these issues will help us address White privilege and oppression in ourselves and with other White people and become better allies for social justice.”

OSU also provides a 10-minute video featuring interviews with past participants in the Examining White Identity retreat, as well as pitches from Diversity Office staff.

“This retreat offers an extended conversation; it offers a chance for folks to learn in almost an experiential way as well as—sometimes—in a classroom-based way,” Director of Student Leadership and Involvement Eric Alexander says in the video, adding that he hopes the students will apply the lessons they learn to help foster “a greater feeling of people feeling like they can matter here; that they belong here; and that they have the opportunity to be fully human here on campus.”

“I learned a lot about white people,” one white student says when asked to summarize the experience. “I learned more about white people and white institutions, I think, than I learned about what you would think … I think a lot of people go in thinking they’re going to learn a lot about people of color.”

Rachael Weber, an assistant director in OSU’s Division of International Programs, even goes so far as to declare that the retreat is “as important as the core classes” and suggest that it should be mandatory for all students.

“This would be an amazing thing to be part of every person who comes in to OSU’s experience,” she asserts. “Wouldn’t that be an amazing gift to the university and to the world?”

The “Racial Aikido” retreat for non-white students likewise introduces theories such as White privilege, “in-group and internalized oppression,” and “identity development models,” but also includes elements designed to teach strategies for overcoming the institutional oppression perpetrated by those unenlightened individuals who have not yet attended a social justice retreat.

“Originally created at the University of Vermont, Racial Aikido acknowledges that people of color may be ill prepared to deal with issues of race and racism as it affects them personally,” the school’s website states. “Racial Aikido promotes tools for people of color to maintain a positive self-image and be able to respond to overt and covert racism.”

Merriam Webster describes Aikido as a “Japanese art of self-defense employing locks and holds and utilizing the principle of nonresistance to cause an opponent's own momentum to work against him.”

By the conclusion of the retreat, attendees are expected to have learned “how to recognize racism, respond to racism in a self-affirming and positive manner that is appropriate for the situation, and replenish by taking care of your needs in order to maintain a healthy physical, emotional, and spiritual self.”

As with the white privilege retreat, the website includes a video in which former Racial Aikido participants and OSU staff members discuss the nature of the event.

“The day is packed with activities, group work, paired sharing, more-formal workshops, and facilitation and lecture,” says Director of Diversity Initiatives Teresita Alvarez-Cortez, “but also a lot of dialogue, a lot of space for people to talk with each other about their experiences and to think of new ways of approaching those experiences.”

One student praised Racial Aikido for helping him understand the need to “choose my battles,” saying that hearing about the experiences of others taught him that there is more intolerance in the world than he had realized previously.

“You learn that it actually happens a lot … microaggressions,” he says. “I learned that I can’t continually fight; I can’t continually run, because you run down on all the energy.”

In addition to this weekend’s student retreats, OSU is also putting on a separate white privilege retreat for “white (self-identified) faculty and staff” on Friday and Saturday, and plans to hold a one-day “Multiracial Aikido” event on January 30 focusing specifically on students with multiple ethnic backgrounds.

Brandi Douglas, who is listed as the point of contact for information about the social justice retreats, had not responded by press time to requests for comment from Campus Reform.

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