I slammed my hand down on the buzzer and yelled “Trans rights!” I answered the question correctly. I was sitting at trivia night, sponsored by Ally Week, learning more than I thought I would about social justice issues. My team tied for second to last place. But, clearly we needed to learn more, so we spoke to people and learned about the controversy surrounding the name of one event: Dear White People.
A panel conversation about racial privilege scheduled to take place on Wednesday night, Dear White People, offends some students because the title makes them feel attacked.
Serena Lightstone, a study away sophomore from the New York campus, said the name of the event might make white people feel singled out. “By alienating this one race you’re creating an even greater divide between white people and other racial groups,” Lightstone said.
I spoke with Joyce Tan, Senior Associate of Diversity Initiatives and staff advisor of Ally Week, who explained the mission and importance of Ally Week. “For a community that is so small and within that smallness, so diverse, Ally Week is a place for us to see what that diversity really means and to promote inclusiveness and inclusion,” she said.
Ally Week is a series of events that take place over the course of a week that challenge the entire community to examine stereotypes and prejudices, and to practice the act of allyship. Through these events, Ally Week educates the community on different identities and the struggles that certain marginalized groups may face. These events include things such as safe zone training, a screening of the film Get Out, and more.
But Dear White People isn’t as neutral as other events due to its arguably controversial title. Lightstone felt that although the marketing efforts have been enhanced this year, simply because this event sounds like an attack on white people, not many white students will go.
“If white people don’t come to the event then I think Ally Week is definitely not achieving its goals. As far as this event being a conversation, it doesn’t sound like it will be a two-way street,” Lightstone said.
However, Maya Williams, a senior on the Ally Week Committee, doesn’t see a problem with the name. Williams feels that addressing one group specifically isn’t an attack. The event is simply meant to provide a space for students to have a discussion about the realities of racial privilege that will hopefully lead to further discussion of race.
John Isenhower, a study away sophomore from the New York campus, shared a similar viewpoint with Lightstone about the title of the event. Isenhower said that the problem with the name is that it can be “a little bit targeting,” which defeats the purpose: open dialogue between marginalized groups and the privileged majority.
Isenhower feels that if the event were named something like “Dialogues about Racial Privilege” instead, it would be more effective in creating an inclusive environment. “I feel that calling [white people] out, means that they are immediately set on the defensive and there’s not an open dialogue ready to take place,” he said. He thinks white people might be hesitant to attend because the name indicates the event has the potential to become aggressive.
But Williams contextualized the name by citing its origin. She said, “The title is inspired by the TV show and movie of the same name, but the reason we chose it is because white people are the ones who benefit significantly from racial privilege.”
However, Lightstone’s interpretation of the TV show connection is that nonetheless, the committee still should have taken other students’ perspectives into account.
They did. During my interview with Tan, she said, “We anticipated this when we designed the whole program and decided on the title…We thought there was a chance that people might have objections towards this and in fact, we have heard people saying some students might have reservations against this”.
Tan argued that previous years’ Ally Week events have had great topics but the people who need to be in the conversation don’t pay attention. If the event were titled “Dialogues about Racial Privilege,” Tan felt that those who really need to attend this event wouldn’t. The name was chosen to draw attention to the event.
Interestingly enough, a white student life employee in charge of new student programs, Tyler Rhorick, suggested the name for this event. He will also be the moderator. Additionally, there will be a white student on the panel.
Even though some NYU Shanghai community members may feel that this event is unnecessarily aggressive towards white people, the Ally Week committee wants white students to come. Williams said, “This conversation does concern them and they should come talk about it.”
This article was written by Austin Gregory. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Ally Week