The Colorado College student group Conversations on Whiteness (COW) began almost a year ago this block. Started last year by seniors Justin Haas and Reed Young, the conversation continues as CC students strive to develop productive white allyship and make CC a space aware of and defiant to white supremacist beliefs and traditions. Juniors Valerie Hanna and Eviva Kahne now lead the group.
COW recognizes that racism is a problem perpetuated by white institutions, and our campus is no exception. Eviva Kahne said, “It is crucial for white people to examine their own whiteness and address their responsibility.”
On Monday, Hanna and Kahne facilitated the discussion in Sacred Grounds. The second meeting of the year began with usual introductions—participants stating their name, major, and motives behind their attendance. This week’s session was titled, “Unpack the invisible knapsack: analyze how whiteness has impacted our lives.”
The weekly conversation is broken into an hour-long discussion followed by a 30 minute session dedicated to planning for the future. Planning involves tapping into existing efforts on campus and in the surrounding Colorado area. COW finds particular inspiration from SURJ, which has a local chapter in Colorado Springs dedicated to organizing for racial justice.
This past week the conversation began with reading aloud a portion of Peggy McIntosh’s acclaimed essay entitled, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” The following conversation used the essay as a platform to discuss white privilege at CC on a critical and self-reflective level. It was an honest conversation on white identity, intersectionality, and constructions of whiteness on campus.
The weekly conversations follow a theme and hope to achieve COW’s goals through productive discussion. According to their website, COW’s goals include engaging students in the critical examination of white identity, increasing the number of white allies on campus, educating students on racial inequalities present in our society and on campus, and using knowledge gained in meetings to help create systems of belonging on campus.
Considering the current political climate, the leaders of COW believe it is more vital than ever for white students to address various racism, at the CC campus and beyond. “This semester is about really harnessing onto the sense of urgency and having sessions that are meaningful, that push us and challenge us,” said Hanna.
“It’s difficult to talk about but also essential, moving past white privilege and guilt to a kind of systemic understanding of whiteness,” said Kahne.
COW offers a space for candid, personal conversation on whiteness, yet does not qualify as the conventional “safe space.” Last year co-founder Justin Haas said, “I want [white students] to be “safe” in the sense that students feel comfortable in sharing about their perspectives and their backgrounds but by no means is it a group that…need[s] a space to kind of deal with the white dominated campus.”
As they left, attendants of Monday’s session were asked to think about how their whiteness plays into every interaction—from buying groceries at King Soopers to walking through campus at night. The group argues critical reflections on whiteness are fundamental to building a better campus of white allyship and systemic change.