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April 9, 2004

MHC Senior Creates Forum to Examine White Privilege

On April 17, Mount Holyoke will host a daylong conference titled “Understanding Whiteness, Recognizing Privilege: Continuing the Conversation on Racial Justice.” The conference will examine the experience of white privilege, how it affects people’s lives, and ways to promote social justice and antiracism. There will be discussions, workshops, and lectures by three speakers: Enoch Page, an anthropology professor at UMass; Tim Wise, an antiracist activist; and Becky Thompson, a sociology professor at Simmons College.

Kyra Zola Norsigian ’04, conference organizer, explained that the event is modeled on a similar one she participated in two years ago at Hampshire College. “That conference was a slightly nonacademic way of looking at racism,” Norsigian said. “It was very inspiring and a big success. I thought, this really needs to happen again.”

Norsigian, an anthropology major who is pursing a minor in race and racism in the U.S., began preparing for the conference last fall. Her first step was an independent study with Susan Pliner, associate director of the Weissman Center for Leadership and the Liberal Arts, to create a conference-planning guide. Since then, she has enlisted the sponsorship of many organizations and offices, including the Offices of the President, Dean of the College, and Dean of Students; the Campus Conservation Coalition; and the African American and African Studies Committee. With assistance from a dedicated group of students, Norsigian has put together an impressive and informative Web site (http://whiteprivilege.mtholyoke.edu), which provides schedules, presenter profiles, and a wealth of resources and information about the conference and its subject matter.

Norsigian sees the conference as a means to continue the discussions that started two years ago at Hampshire and also to draw new people into the dialogue. “It’s especially timely now at Mount Holyoke because of the conversation about institutional racism,” Norsigian said.“I hope to get staff, faculty, students, and people from South Hadley to take the subject and apply it to their lives in the classroom and beyond. We want to provide a space for people to challenge themselves.”e

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