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U. Maryland series ‘Counteracting Divisiveness’ appears to be quite … divisive

The University of Maryland’s Office of Undergraduate Studies is sponsoring several faculty-staff “brown bag” discussions throughout the summer, all under the auspices of “counteracting divisiveness.”

Unfortunately, the one-sided nature of the sessions would appear to contradict the series’ mission.

Two of the recently-completed workshops from June were titled “What’s happening on campus and across the U.S.?” and “But I don’t feel privileged”:  What is identity privilege and how does it affect us?

Materials from the former utilize tweets from minority students to “make the case” that U. Maryland is a rather inhospitable place for students of color. The evidence is anecdotal, of course, and the assertions about their white peers include: They claim majority-minority Prince George’s County is “dangerous,” they utter the “N” word a lot, and they refuse to work with minority students in classes. The session PowerPoint offers much of the same.

The latter workshop’s PowerPoint features three “common beliefs about privilege”:

–“We are one human race so I don’t notice difference”
–“If people just work hard and do the right thing, they will do fine”
–“Because I have disadvantages, I cannot have privilege.”

Of note, regarding that first bullet point it would be interesting to see how any philosophical “divisiveness” would be “counteracted.” After all, the University of Oklahoma’s George Henderson says race “is a fiction of our imagination […] because we are the composite of many different racial groups or peoples.” Dr. Henderson is African-American.

This seminar also highlights Peggy McIntosh’s well-known “Invisible Knapsack” premise via an article by Everyday FeminismHere’s a sample:

Take white privilege, for instance. White privilege is, essentially, a social construction whereby wealthy Europeans wanted to make sure that they could consolidate their wealth by pitting poor people from Europe against poor Africans and Indigenous people.

White folks were made to feel better about themselves and were given paltry privileges over people of color in order to divide the white proletariat.

One of the better takedowns of the whole “Knapsack” idea comes from Jay Fayza, who’s reacting to McIntosh being taught in an Ontario high school:

Another piece (from the website Citizenship & Social Justice) titled “Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism–from Ferguson to Charleston” isn’t much better:

There are no doubt complexities that come with White Americans working for racial justice. White privilege can lead to a chronic case of undiagnosed entitlement, creating poor listeners, impatient speakers who talk over others, and people unaccustomed to taking orders. Nevertheless, the movement for racial justice needs more White Americans to get involved.

Keep in mind — this whole series is about counteracting divisiveness!

Next up in this summer series: tomorrow’s “Free speech versus hate speech: How do we balance these at a public university?” Although nothing all that controversial appears in the three facilitators’ courses and research, academia typically has not been friendly to traditional First Amendment interpretations.

For example, following the murder of Bowie State student Richard Collins III at U. Maryland (whose death is featured in several “Counteracting Divisiveness” materials, by the way), a UMD campus student group demanded hate speech be dubbed a “cult activity,” and that the school implement a “zero-tolerance policy regarding hate-bias incidents.”

MORE: Claim: Teacher made students stand up and apologize for their ‘white privilege’

MORE: University hosts training on how to ‘reduce the impact of white privilege’

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.