'Race in Academy' conf. aims at national debate

by Judith Phillips | 9/27/02 5:00am

Bringing nationally-known speakers like Cornel West to campus, a conference set to take place next week at Dartmouth entitled "Race Matters in the University of the 21st Century," seeks to explore the advantages that white skin confers.

Dartmouth's Race in the Academy Committee will lead the conference that organizers hope will set off a national debate.

According to its chair, biology professor George Langford, the committee was established last fall "to look at ways in which Dartmouth can increase diversity among its faculty."

The conference is intended to "discuss the issue of white identity and whiteness because these are issues that continue to serve as barriers to the full participation of minority faculty," Langford said.

There is an undesirable disparity between the percentages of non-white undergraduates and faculty, 30 percent and 10 percent respectively, he added.

"The playing field is not level," English professor Ivy Schweitzer said. "We want to bring some attention to what it means to have a level playing field, what it means to have a meritocracy."

Langford echoed sentiments expressed by College President James Wright in his convocation address on Tuesday, saying that "many people don't think of 'white' as a racial identity -- they don't face what it means to be white."

"Individuals who are classified as being white derive certain privileges," he said. "Quite often whites don't think about that."

Schweitzer also emphasized that lack of thought, stating that "one of the damages of the academy is that white people do not see whiteness as a cultural identity. They see it as just normal."

The conference, Scheweitzer said, therefore aims "to unsettle our comfortable notions that white is normal."

The first day of the conference is divided into three case studies, "The Place of African-American Studies in the 'Corporatized' University," "How Race Matters Enter the Curriculum" and "Minority Scholars in the Academy."

Each panelist, among them distinguished Princeton professor Cornel West, is a member of the national academic community.

According to Langford, the conference is intended to create a "set of recommendations to guide institutional diversity, curriculum reform and faculty hiring plans for the country as a whole."

He anticipated that "it will start here at Dartmouth, but will be adopted nationally. It is a momentous occasion that will provide national attention."

Scott Jacobs '99, who is responsible for the adoption of Race, Ethnicity and Migration as a core Dartmouth requirement, said that the expansion of curricula related to non-white subjects is bound to encounter opposition.

"It's like a chess game," Jacobs said. "With anything you want to accomplish in life, there are people who will help you and people who will want to stop you."

With regard to the conference, Jacobs expressed the "hope that even people who are opposed to the idea would engage in the dialogue and let their views be heard."

Schweitzer said that "in organizing the conference, most of the people we've talked to have been eager to address this even if they don't agree that it is a problem."

The events of Oct. 4 will begin at 8:30 a.m. in Collis Commonground, while those the next day will be held in Alumni Hall. Langford emphasized that students and other community members are encouraged to attend.

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