UI reschedules workshop to explore white identity

After the UI paused the workshop earlier this month, it is now set for May 17.


Lily Smith

The Old Capitol is seen on Nov. 25, 2018.

Marissa Payne, Managing Editor

The “Understanding Your Whiteness” workshop has been rescheduled after the University of Iowa announced its cancellation/postponement in January following misunderstandings about the workshop’s intent. 

The workshop, initially scheduled to be held later this month, was postponed to give the university time to further understand and address stakeholders’ concerns about the workshop — its instructional material, the logistics, and the clarity of its message. It will now be held 9 a.m-noon on May 17 in the University Capitol Center.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leadership said in a statement the UI “values diversity, equity, and inclusion and is committed to creating a welcoming environment for all members of its campus community.”

A committee of students, staff, and faculty, with the assistance of the Diversity Resources Team in the UI Division for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion organized the workshop. It is voluntary and is not an academic class, and there is no cost associated with holding the workshops.

“This training was not about shame or guilt but instead about raising awareness and thinking critically about personal experiences,” the statement said.

Similar workshops and conferences have been held at other colleges and universities in Iowa and around the U.S., particularly following the 2016 election. Iowa State University held an event to foster discussions about white fragility on Tuesday with no evident public backlash.

UI Diversity Resources Director Bria Marcelo said that in proceeding with the workshop, leadership wanted to balance the need to engage in the exchange of ideas while addressing misunderstandings of the workshop.

Bria Marcelo

“To me, I think that raising awareness about identity is not a controversial topic, but it can feel like one if you’ve never done it before, and so that’s something that we have to also acknowledge from our perspective — what that looks like and what that means,” she said.

Marcelo said the May 17 date — after the end of the semester — was the best time for faculty and staff schedules and did not conflict with events scheduled in March and April or with graduation in May.

RELATED: UI cancels white privilege workshop following ‘stakeholders concerns’

The spring session class list shows two of the 50 registrants identified as undergraduates and one of 38 registrants identified as undergraduates on the waiting list — which, she said, suggests a different structure for training may be optimal for students.

“As those interested students may not be able to participate in the May session, we will be sure to reach out to them directly prior to the end of the semester,” she said.

News of the workshop’s rescheduling comes amid the #DoesUIowaLoveMe social-media movement in which UI students have taken to social media to voice their experiences on campus and share struggles they have faced in regard to diversity and inclusiveness.

UI Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers, the UI associate vice president for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, said she noted that students connected the need for the movement to the need for the workshop. With the workshop being postponed, she said, students raised concerns that this would also postpone candid conversations on white identity.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion leaders were considering how to proceed with the workshop before the social-media movement.

“… These are not issues that we are afraid to discuss and recognize we need to have on our campus,” she said. “… We do at the same time welcome and embrace the concept of the constitutional right of freedom of speech, yet we also want to make sure that people have a larger awareness of and knowledge and skills and understanding about how the actions and activities, and sometimes even the words that we use [have an] impact.”