BOULDER, Colo.—People stare when University of Colorado student Maren Gauldin wears her “Black is Beautiful” T-shirt.
That’s because she’s white.
The shirt, Gauldin says, is like a tag that forces her to engage in conversations about race, forces her to feel a tiny bit like black and Latino students on an overwhelmingly white campus.
“Every time I put it on, I feel uncomfortable,” Gauldin told students at a white-privilege symposium last month that filled an auditorium and spilled into a hallway. “It helps me think about the kind of activist I want to be.”
The symposium was one part of an introspective look by white CU scholars and students at the privileges they say are automatically afforded the white race. Awareness of the relatively new field, called whiteness studies, is building at CU as the university examines its diversity and racial strife.
The field of study—by some accounts born 10 years ago at a conference at the University of California at Berkeley and now taught at hundreds of universities—has its critics, who call it white-bashing rhetoric that shows how far academia has strayed from mainstream society.
“Whiteness studies is not about white-bashing, and it’s not about white supremacy,” said Duncan Rinehart, who will teach CU’s fourth whiteness-studies course this semester.
“As long as whiteness is invisible, it’s contributing to inequality and injustice. There is a fair amount of just flat-out denial, not malicious, but denial nonetheless.”
The European/American Issues Forum—an organization that says it is not white supremacist but stands up for white rights—has e-mailed a couple dozen student leaders and filed three open-records requests with CU interim president Hank Brown asking for university expenses on ethnic clubs. One e-mail included statistics of crimes against whites by blacks.
Its president, Louis Calabro, also has demanded a representative of European American rights on CU’s 44-member blue-ribbon diversity panel.
Calabro, a 73-year-old retired San Francisco police lieutenant, found out about the white-privilege symposium on the Internet and was incensed. He said CU has created a culture of white guilt by teaching that “everybody else are the victims and we’re the perps.”
“The University of Colorado has a campus that’s hostile to European American white people,” he said.