Examining Whiteness – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Examining Whiteness

In early April, three students from Assistant Professor of English Anna Creadick’s First-Year Seminar “Seeing Whiteness” traveled to Allegheny College in Pennsylvania to attend and participate in “Examining Whiteness: An Academic Conference on White Privilege and Racism in America.” Reina Apraez ’11, Adrienne Haydu ’11, and Jalisa Whitley ’11, presented their papers at the conference, which tackled the same issues as their FSEM. Creadick chaired the panel and Instructor of English Mary Hess served as commentator. The conference was structured into two parts: the first day four major contemporary scholars and philosophers of race — Linda Martín Alcoff, Charles Mills, Lucius Outlaw, and Shannon Sullivan — spoke in back-to-back plenary sessions. The second day featured undergraduate panel presentations, with the distinguished speakers revolving through as members of the audience. The three student papers highlighted whiteness as an identity, commodity and performance. The final portion of their session was a roundtable discussion on the risks, benefits and challenges of teaching “whiteness” as an academic subject. The William Smith students were afforded an exciting opportunity to experience one-on-one engagement with renowned national scholars of race, as well as other undergraduates who delivered papers. “I knew if this conference was anything like my seminar, there was a lot to be gained by attending,” says first-year Haydu. “It is important to give attention to issues such as white privilege and racism in America, mainly because both are still occurring.” “I really ate up the class material and learning how ‘race’ has been constructed and continues to be,” recalls Apraez. “The conference further interested me because I wanted to know more about the epistemological and political approaches being made to address the issues.” At the conference, the HWS students sought to explore answers to the question of what happens when students at a small, predominantly white, regional liberal arts college are asked to confront “whiteness” – historically, theoretically and personally. For HWS and Allegheny College, both predominately white institutions, the conference allowed for a confrontation of these difficult issues regarding their own character that are often overlooked by other modes of inquiry. “I found the entire conference quite moving and also very informative,” says Haydu. “I was fascinated by some of the things said by the presenters, and it was interesting to hear other students share their experiences and opinions as well as to learn about the research they have done about whiteness and race.” She continues, “It never really occurred to me how other students studied what I studied in my First-Year Seminar, thus it was eye-opening to hear my peers speak out about the issues about which I learned, allowing us to essentially ‘examine whiteness’ for a weekend.” “My three William Smith first-years did a fantastic job,” says Creadick. “They made me proud, and they represented our institution with distinction, especially considering they were up against many junior and senior undergraduates presenting major seminar papers.” The papers the William Smith students presented were edited versions of their FSEM final papers. In class, students were urged to discover how and why scholars have come to see “whiteness” as a subject, delving into the interdisciplinary scholarship of history, literary studies, media and cultural studies, and gender/sexuality studies that has emerged around the subject of whiteness in the last two decades. Apraez, whose paper is titled “Biracial Identity: Finding Oneself Along the Borders,” took the experience as a learning opportunity to argue for change when confronted with privilege and supremacy, thus engaging others in the community. “The experiences were amazing and humbling,” she says. “Listening to the keynote speakers and other presenters allowed me to realize how much more I need to learn. I received criticism and observed others’ criticisms, affirming that I am on the right track, but there is still so much to understand and be conscious of.” In the above photo, “Examining Whiteness” attendees Hess, Whitley, Apraez, Haydu and Creadick gather.