Westmont screens "Dear White People": Campus film showing promotes meaningful discussion on race
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“Dear White People” was screened last Thursday night in the Page MPR by Westmont’s Racial Equality and Justice organization. As part of an initiative to get more white students at Westmont involved in discussions about race, the film posed important questions about identity and reconciliation that are constantly being discussed by students involved in the Westmont Intercultural Programs (ICP).
“Dear White People” provided the opportunity for students of all backgrounds to hear each other’s stories and engage in dialogue about what it means to be of ethnic minority at a predominately white institution.
The movie itself follows the story of black students at a fictional Ivy League university. Satirical yet poignant, “Dear White People” introduces a number of complex characters who are trying to figure out where they belong in a school that makes them feel ostracized. For some, coping means rejecting any sense of black identity. For others, it means actively calling out institutional forms of racism. For one character who is gay, there is little difference between the black and white communities, both of which make him feel isolated.
The movie culminates in a black-face/ghetto-themed party, an event that was taken from real news headlines that describe identical parties recently held by college students at universities across the U.S.
Jason Cha, Director of ICP, believes that Westmont is not immune to these discrepancies. “Many of our students of color experience having to navigate ignorance, micro aggressions and an overall climate that favors a dominant white evangelical culture.”
However, Westmont has been striving to create a place of inclusive diversity. Beginning in 1995, diversity has been an integral part of the college’s long range plan, largely due to the work of former Dean of Students Jane Hideko Higa.
An excerpt from the 1995 long range plan, which can be found on the campus website, states: “an important dimension of self-understanding and self-criticism must include being a community informed and enriched by thoughtful and intentional study of and interaction with cultures other than our own.”
Two of the main goals of ICP have been to provide thoughtful communication, and to create a safe space for students of color to share their stories. Christina Buckley and Christina Lee are leaders of Racial Equality and Justice (REJ), which is one of the seven organizations supported by ICP. They are both highly supportive of white students getting involved in the dialogue about race.
Showing “Dear White People” was one opportunity for white peers to be present in the conversation, but the leaders hope this is only the beginning of their involvement.
“An important part of how white students can be supportive is to not be afraid to ask questions and actively participate in meetings and events,” said Lee. She also encourages more white students to be present at future ICP gatherings.
By cultivating communication between students, ICP is taking steps to fulfill it’s vision statement and realize it’s ultimate hope for the campus climate: “For Westmont to be the kind of place where we can share the fullness of our experiences and are supported, validated and encouraged in our journey of faith and life.”