I am a white tenure-track faculty member, and I consider myself a progressive. I want to be an ally to my students of color, but I’m not sure how. I don’t want to make mistakes and offend anyone. Is it better for me to say nothing, if I’m not an expert on race? I feel so helpless. Do you have any advice?
I will answer this as best I can, with the goal of opening up further dialogue. I want to be clear that I am a white person addressing this column to other white people who are teaching. I do not mean to exclude anyone, or to claim authority about the experiences or needs of people of color. It is my firm conviction that the time has come for white people to speak up about racism, and to educate one another about anti-racist activism, and not leave the burden of this work on the shoulders of people of color. I am drawing inspiration here from a group I am involved with, Showing Up for Racial Justice, a national organization dedicated to mobilizing white people in anti-racism work. You can probably find a local chapter in your town, and I urge you to do so, as SURJ is not only a resource for training and information but also a location to connect with like-minded people, which is essential at a time when faculty are increasingly called upon to protect vulnerable students.