White Allies address racism, identity and diversity

Until recently, “diversity” and “white” haven’t exactly gone hand-in-hand.This semester marks the second semester for the new student diversity group at UVM, the Aspiring White Anti-Racist Allies.The goal of the organization is to get white students on campus involved in the discussion of diversity and events related to diversity, sophomore Caitlin Shelburne, founder of the organization, said.”I wanted to start this group to show the white students [that] you can be involved in diversity.  You can be involved in fundraisers and events on campus,” Shelburne said.The Allies meet weekly to discuss involvement on campus, white identity, white privilege and white guilt.The ALANA Center supports the Allies, Monique Swaby, coordinator for Programs and Student Leadership Development at the ALANA Student Center, said.”Essentially, our relationship with the Anti-Racist White Allies club is the same as any other new student of color organization that we support on campus,” she said.”Myself and the director of the ALANA Student Center has and will be meeting monthly with Caitlin and her advisor to support the goals of the club,” Swaby said.However, the Allies plan on going beyond weekly meetings. “I want to go to see speakers on campus and build coalitions with other organizations,” she said. “I want to make sure that we are welcome with these other groups so they know exactly what we are here for, what we do.”The organization is still building a name for itself on campus and some students are unsure exactly what they do. “It sounds like a good thing,” junior Rob Olshefski said. “I hear people say all the time that if black students can have their organizations, why can’t white people? But I think you need to be careful of that kind of group, even if it is just to bring awareness.”Swaby agrees that the students need to understand the Allies’ role.”The question is, does the larger community really understand what it means to be a true ally?” Swaby said.Nevertheless, Shelburne is confident that the organization is heading in the right direction.”I am happy with the commitment people have shown and their dedication to identity development and social justice issues,” she said.Swaby is also excited.”We have high hopes for ways in which this organization can allow for honest conversation, white identity awareness and recognition of how they relate to students of color,” Swaby said.”I think it’s a good idea,” senior Zulairam Ruiz said. “I think people who are not of color should have these conversations.” Swaby agrees that in order to build across cultural barriers, people must first understand themselves and their own identity.”It is not until we can each see the human aspect of who we all are that we can then begin to see the big picture,” she said.