AU course to investigate 'whiteness'

Classes focusing on white race raise awareness, controversy

Courses in African-American, Asian, Latino and women's studies are taught every day in colleges across the country. If a current trend continues in social science departments, a new discipline, "Whiteness Studies," could be added to that list.

There are currently more than 30 institutions teaching courses that focus on the white race, and next semester AU will be one of them.

Sociology professor Celine-Marie Pascale will teach a class next semester, SOCY-396-001, called "White Privilege and Social Justice," in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Pascale's course will look at the social and legal construction of race and how racial identities are produced, maintained and transformed, according to the course catalog. She will focus heavily on how race is represented in the media.

The course will study the role white people have had in constructing the idea of race, but will also examine the "tremendous history of white people contributing to racial justice," Pascale said.

"Whiteness studies" classes at other schools focus on the idea of Caucasians considering themselves part of a race, whereas, according to these schools, whites usually do not think like this, they say.

"Before, the term 'race' just meant talking about black people, brown people and yellow people," Georgia State University sociology professor Charles Gallagher said. "Now we are turning the lens on white people."

"We investigate what it means to be white now," he said. "We are looking at white privilege and how power is hidden through ideology."

Gallagher has published more than 12 papers on race relations and is the editor of the book "Re-Thinking the Color Line: Readings in Race and Ethnicity."

The way that lens is showing white people is a cause of great concern to critics of these courses.

"Black, Chicano and Women's Studies celebrate the achievements of these groups," said David Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture. "Only whiteness studies attacks the group it studies."

Horowitz has written numerous books, including "The Politics of Bad Faith" and "The Art of Political War."

"This is a racist field," Horowitz said. "It's a leftist attack on white people, not an academic field."

Arlene Avakian, director of Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Massachu-setts, disagrees. She has taught a course since 1996 on how the law treats whiteness, dating back to the immigration laws of the 1790s.

"[Critics] don't understand," Avakian said. "First, minority studies aren't 'celebrating' minorities. We have separate courses because blacks and women have been ignored. Looking at and understanding whites is important as well. In a racial society, whites are racialized too."

Much of the criticism of her courses and others like them stems from the unwillingness of whites to recognize that "part of the reason we succeed is our race," Avakian said.

"[White people] are willing to look [at] how racism put one group of people at a disadvantage," Avakian said. "But if one group is disadvantaged, another group must be gaining an advantage. That's what white people don't like to talk about."

While specific courses vary among colleges, most cover the topics of how and why race was defined, how whites have used race to maintain power and the meaning society attaches to race.

The AU class will be balanced, according to Pascale, examining various roles of white people.

"This is the first time it will be offered at AU," Pascale said. "But I've taught a course very similar to it at [the University of California] Santa Cruz, and I've conducted many professional workshops with this material."

At AU, another popular course that studies race, among many things, is Cross-Cultural Communication, according to Gary Weaver, a professor in the School of International Service.

"I don't think we need a separate course on white culture because good cross-cultural studies will look at dominant and minority culture," Weaver said.

Also, one of the goals outlined in the April 2001 General Education Program review is to call "attention to a variety of perspectives, including those that have emerged from scholarship on gender, race and class."

However, some question the extent to which race is covered.

"In two of my three gen. ed. classes, you couldn't touch race issues with a 10-foot pole," said Brett Shear-Heyman, a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. "But we do talk about race and class a lot in my psychology class"

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