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PCC President: No intention to shame during Whiteness History Month

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Kelley says the April event is to foster a free exchange of ideas


PORTLAND COMMUNITY COLLEGE - President Sylvia Kelley

Portland Community College has been deluged with press attention after conservative media picked up on its decision to host a Whiteness History Month in April.

“It was very busy on Tuesday,” said PCC’s media relations official Kate Chester, who noted that the board directors and cabinet members were caught off-guard during a holiday by the sudden attention. “What better day to create controversy than Martin Luther King, Jr. day?”

The event has been planned since October 2015 but the idea went viral on Jan. 18 with many worried that it will be a space for deriding white people and focusing only on their contributions to racism, cultural oppression and other negative aspects of society.

President Sylvia Kelley defended the event in a statement Wednesday, saying it was not white-shaming, as some have feared.

“‘Whiteness’ is an academic term commonly used to describe the social and political construction of white identity related to beliefs, cultural norms and privileges,” Kelley said. “As Oregon’s largest post-secondary educational institution, it is our responsibility to help continue this courageous conversation. We understand that this will be challenging and uncomfortable work, yet we have made a commitment in our strategic plan to take intentional action to advance diversity, equity and inclusion — for all we serve.”

A subcommittee of PCC’s Cascade Campus Diversity Council is spearheading the project, which is taking suggestions for programming until Feb. 1.

Chester said the opportunity to participate is open “for those who are passionate, no matter where you sit on the spectrum, to be a part of that conversation.”

Unlike Black History Month, which has been celebrated in the United States since 1976, Whiteness History Month “is not a celebratory endeavor,” organizers said on their website.

Some of the topics the subcommittee wants to examine are:

• What are alternatives to a culture of white supremacy?

• What are approaches and strategies to dismantling whiteness?

Kelley said the pursuit is academic.

“PCC's event is intended to enable a rich and engaging exchange of ideas. We hope it will open up a space for dialogue and discovery around these complex issues,” she said. “There is no intention, as some may have feared, to ‘shame or blame’ anyone.”