The Vermont Cynic

Student to examine white identity and race


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A retreat that caught international attention last year is being held again.

Last year, UVM was put on an international stage after sending students on a weekend retreat to examine their white identity. Some students will take part in the third annual Examining White Identity Retreat at the Common Ground Retreat Center in Starksboro, Vt. Nov. 11-13.

“No one asked for their identity; they cannot get rid of it. So you have to ask yourself how you become an agent of change,” Anne Valentine, one of the retreat’s facilitators, said.

The University has been scrutinized by various media sources in the past for the retreat.

Last year the retreat received backlash by national and international news outlets, according to a Dec. 22 Cynic article.

It was criticized by Fox News as a “tool of shame,” the article stated.

Leaders and students at the retreat said they disagree and think the retreat leads to progress in the communities they return to.

“[The retreat is] not at all about guilt, shame or blame,” Valentine said.

Junior Rachel Altman, who attended the retreat in 2015, said she experienced a variety of emotions at the retreat, but it has made her better able to combat racism.

“It is important to know that you may feel some guilt at this retreat, and that is perfectly normal,” Altman said, “but you must be constructive and move through the uncomfortableness of it.”

The retreat is an affinity space for white students, said Beverly Colston, director of the ALANA Student Center.

Affinity spaces, such as the one created during the retreat, are groups of people drawn together because of a shared social identity including race, gender and religion.

The space allows for candid and necessary conversation, Colston said. Participants then bring knowledge of their identity as a result of these conversations back to their community.

There are there are differing attitudes toward different types of affinity spaces, she said.

“It seems that people are okay with affinity spaces in regards to gender, but as soon as it becomes about race, it becomes an issue,” Colston said. “We need to end that.”

The retreat allows white students to engage specifically in building a stronger and more inclusive campus community.

“Racism is still present, and we are working on that,” she said. “We care about our white students and we want them to care about dismantling racism.”

Students in attendance will be asked to answer questions about what it means to be white in America, the retreat’s website states.

They will hopefully be able to build a network of peers, understand their racial identity, develop knowledge of systemic racial injustices and practice skills to interrupt the system, retreat organizer Troy Headrick said.

“This is a voluntary retreat for students who self-identify as white to examine and discuss racial identity,” Colston said. “It came out of the ALANA center and is designed to parallel the center’s other retreats.”

Altman said the retreat enabled her to understand how she showed up in a space as a white person.

“I have learned to recognize when it is my responsibility to speak out about injustices when others cannot and actively use my [white] privilege for the benefit of others,” she said.

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Student to examine white identity and race