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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

White Privilege Symposium this weekend

his coming Friday and Saturday, Coe College, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, will be hosting the 20th annual White Privilege Symposium. Grinnell College will sponsor 10 students to attend the Symposium this year, affording them an opportunity to meet people from around the world and discuss issues of race, intersectionality and identity in a judgment-free zone.

While the event addresses several different themes over the two-day period, the main focuses this year will be intersectionality and race.

Erik Henderson ’19 explained that one of the main goals of the event is “trying to get people to understand that there is this thing called white privilege,” as he believes that many who do not directly experience the repercussions of racism do not spend time thinking about issues related with race and ethnicity.

As the Intercultural Affairs student program assistant, Henderson has become deeply involved with the Symposium and maintaining its connection to Grinnell. In preparation for this year’s event, he spent time raising funds and creating the application in order to facilitate students’ participation.

“Having this Symposium and this conference, it allows people to actually understand why these things are occurring,” Henderson said, regarding issues of white privilege. “What is really going on, how can we deflect this negative potential and turn it into something positive, something that we can actually learn from instead of making it very uncomfortable.”

The Symposium contains several different elements. Students can participate in several workshops, some of which Henderson had the opportunity to plan and organize. This year’s event will also feature various keynote speakers ranging from academics to musicians to political activists. Above all, the Symposium gives students a chance to meet others willing to have difficult conversations.

For many of the attendees, the most important aspect of the conversation is the lack of shame and judgment that goes along with participation. To illustrate this point, Henderson recalled what many students refer to as the Grinnell Smackdown, or the practice of shaming someone who accidentally uses a particular word or phrase incorrectly. Rather, the environment of the Symposium is one of collective learning and growth.

“This allows for students that may want to have that conversation but don’t have the language or the vocabulary to talk about it,” Henderson said. “Maybe they’re scared that someone with that language may smack them down. So it allows them to get that comfort level that they may not get on this campus.”

Henderson also stressed that those who run the Symposium remain committed to attacking ideas rather than people, operating in “a way that’s [not] negative and portraying white people as something that’s innately bad. It’s just, it happens, it exists, how can we best combat that and learn from that and work with that.”

While spots for the White Privilege Symposium have already filled this year, more options lie ahead for people who wish to get involved. A conference surrounding the same issues will happen in October, and first- and second-year students can take advantage of these opportunities for years to come. With continued enthusiasm from students, Henderson hopes that the conversation is only just beginning.

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