Increasing White College Students’ Engagement with Anti-Racist Allyship
- Academic Festival
By: Brooke Musial, Class of 2021 (Major: Anthropology, Minor: Peace and Social Justice)
Have you ever heard the phrase analysis paralysis? It is when someone cannot make a decision because they fear that they will make the wrong decision. They analyze their options over and over again to ensure they choose the right one, but their continual analysis makes it impossible to actually choose, and ultimately, leads to inaction. I often experience analysis paralysis when I think about how to engage in anti-racism work as a white person. There are times I hesitate to engage at all because I fear I will inadvertently cause further pain and harm to people of color. Every potential decision seems to have some problematic dimension, and I feel like I will be doing something wrong no matter what decision I make. However, failing to make a decision and to act is a decision in and of itself. It is a decision to not engage with anti-racism work. It is a decision to enable the continuance of white supremacy by not actively working to dismantle it.
The decision of inaction is a decision I refuse to make. My research is a result of my decision to actively engage with anti-racism work and join in the effort to dismantle white supremacy. I recognize that, as a white person, I am not a decision maker nor a leader in anti-racism work. My role in the work is that of an ally and supporter. I developed my research topic by thinking about how I can best be a supporter in anti-racism work. How can I be a good ally? As I sought to answer this question, I became aware of its inherent privilege. As a white ally, I have the privilege of choice – the choice to disengage with anti-racism work if I want to without experiencing any negative consequences. Unlike people of color who are engaged in the work, I do not experience racism and will not be negatively impacted by its continued existence if I disengage.
As I thought about the privilege of allyship in the context of Wheaton, I realized that I did not see many white students actively engaged in anti-racism work on campus. In order for the Wheaton Community to truly embody the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, all members of the community must engage in anti-racism work. This led to my research question: How do we increase white college students’ engagement with anti-racist allyship? I felt that addressing this question was not only crucial for our community, but also an area in which I could add value to the anti-racism work happening on campus. I have experienced what it is like to be a white student trying to figure out where I fit in anti-racism work, and I understand the hesitation and fears that go along with this.
The results of my research showed that I’m not alone in experiencing analysis paralysis. Many of the students who participated in my research are not engaged with anti-racism work on campus because they do not want to cause further pain or harm to students of color. Some of the fears they cited were taking on the role of the white savior, centering themselves in the work, and placing a burden on students of color to educate them. I share these fears, especially because each of them reflects a problematic aspect of my research that could garner criticism. My research centers whiteness in a discussion about anti-racism work. This is unquestionably problematic, and I think it is important to acknowledge it. While it is problematic, I chose to center white privilege and white fragility because I believe we must understand them in order to develop strategies to transcend them and effectively contribute to anti-racism work. Researching these concepts within the context of Wheaton was, and continues to be, an effort to hold myself and my white peers accountable for engaging in anti-racism work in our community.
Thank you to Professor Torres for advising my research and nominating it to Academic Festival and to the many other faculty, staff, and students who contributed to it.