Profs say 'whiteness' training needed for study-abroad programs

Two professors recently argued that white college students need to confront their “white fragility” and “privileged identity” before embarking on study abroad trips.

David Thomas and Zoe Luba, both professors at Mount Allison University, published an article Monday arguing that white students need more diversity programming to address their “white privilege” before they embark on any extended visits to foreign countries.

If students fail to critically reflect upon their privilege, Thomas and Luba warn that they risk perpetuating “harmful outcomes” in countries like Africa and India.

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“Negative and racist stereotypes are often perpetuated and reproduced when uninformed participants travel to the Global South and return to tell others about their experiences,” they lament, adding that it is easy for students “to rely on racist stereotypes regarding the people and places they visit in explaining their trip to people back home.”

To fight this, Thomas and Luba recommend robust “pre-departure programming and preparation” for White students.

In particular, they hope that White students will address their “white fragility,” which they describe as “the (in)ability of white subjects to properly deal with questions of race and racism."

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“White fragility and the lack of critical pre-departure training in the areas of race and racism lead students to overlook or minimise racism as an important system of global oppression,” they assert.

This programming would help students understand their “own privileged identity, whether it be through cultural background, gender, race, class, sexual orientation, or ability, and how these multifaceted identities can lead to one being both oppressive and oppressed simultaneously,” Luba and Thomas note.

Ultimately, this programming must ensure that white students do not have a “detrimental” impact on the countries they visit, though the professors warn that this training may not be enough to fully address students’ white fragility.

“The antidote to white fragility is on-going and life-long, and includes sustained engagement, humility, and education,” they conclude. “It’s an ongoing and often painful process of seeking to uncover our socialization at its very roots. It asks us to rebuild this identity in new and often uncomfortable ways.”

Campus Reform reached out to David Thomas, the lead author of the article, but he declined to comment.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen