The University of Michigan recently offered its white Student Life employees some advice on how to handle the "discomfort" of their "whiteness" as they promote the social justice agenda on campus.
The "Conversations on Whiteness" workshop took place on December 5, as part of a Student Life professional development conference titled "Identity, Wellness, & Work: Healthier, Happier, & More Efficient." Hosted by the associate director of Residence Education, the associate director of Student Life Leadership Education, and the director of Campus Involvement, the event offered employees a chance to work through "social justice issues related to their White Identity." The description of the event notes that the discussion would use the "Privileged Identity Exploration Model" to help inform the conversation (full text below):
Do you feel uncomfortable as a White person engaging with students or colleagues about social justice issues? Do you want to help students and staff as they work through the difficulty of campus climate issues related to race, but don’t know how? Using the Privileged Identity Exploration Model (PIE), participants will have the opportunity to recognize the difficulties they face when talking about social justice issues related to their White identity, explore this discomfort, and devise ways to work through it. Please join us for this session, as we spend time unpacking Whiteness and how to contribute to the work of supporting students and staff related to identity and social justice.
The College Fix notes that the "PIE" model was first introduced by University of Iowa Associate Professor Sherry K. Watt in 2007. In an article published in the College Students Affairs Journal, Watt laid out her theory on the "eight (8) defense modes associated with behaviors individuals display when engaged in difficult dialogues about social justice issues." The model, said Watt, could be "used to assist facilitators as they engage participants in discussions about diversity are discussed."
Among the eight defenses is the "minimization" or outright "denial" of the impact of one's own privilege. Other defenses include "deflection," "rationalization," "intellectualization," "false envy," condescending "benevolence," and hiding behind religious or personal principles.
The "white privilege" theme on college campuses has become nearly ubiquitous, with many universities now offering courses and workshops for students that approach race from the social justice "intersectionality" perspective, which casts individuals as members of various racial, ethnic, religious, etc. groups and places them in a hierarchy of "privilege."