A new book club at James Madison University will assist faculty to “critically self-reflect” and “work to become upstanding allies for people of color.”
The club, called “White Accomplices Knowing Experiences Underlining Privilege” — which just happens to neatly fit the acronym WAKE UP — will develop strategies “to actively engage in practices that increase fair-mindedness on campus and society overall,” according to The Breeze.
Club founder Jennifer Iwerks said a lot, yet so little, in her description of the group’s purpose:
“I think that race is a very important identity in our society, in our culture,” she said. “I think, especially right now, we’re seeing a lot of conversations about race, and so having a space for people to be able to talk critically about that identity, and really any identity, is really valuable.”
Iwerks unsurprisingly is the assistant director of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) of JMU.
“I think that identity development is something that’s always happening for people — it doesn’t just stop after a certain part of our life,” Iwerks said. “As a white woman, I want to be reflecting on my own identities and engaging myself so that I’m reflecting on how my identity has been formed and how that impacts the interactions I have.”
JMU communications professor Jennifer PeeksMease came on board to accompany Iwerks after being connected through JMU Prevention Coordinator and Survivor Advocate Arianna Sessoms. PeeksMease sees the club as an opportunity for members to educate themselves on how to be successful accomplices by using prepared resources rather than constantly leaning on people of color.
“There’s a delicate balance as white accomplices and allies in supporting efforts of people of color on campus and taking them over,” PeeksMease said. “So, one of the things that we are trying to do is create a space where white people can be committed to racial justice and not take over spaces that should really be centering the voices of people of color.”
As might be predicted, one of the “prepared resources” the club will use is Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility.” Another is a workbook titled “Me and White Supremacy.”
PeeksMease notes that “it’s not by accident that a primarily white institution is a primarily white institution,” and the club is one way to make use of “intentional work to undo them.”