This past Wednesday, Jan. 22, one of Intercultural Program’s six organizations, White Students for Racial Justice (WRJ) — previously named Racial Equality and Justice (REJ) — presented an outreach event at the GLC Simmons Center called “But I’m Just a White Guy.” Yet, this was not the first time Westmont has seen the event; two years ago, Olivia Stowell and Emily Peterson hosted the event in Founders.
This semester, the current leaders of WRJ, fourth-year Ben Thomas and third-year Lauren Marino followed up their last semester event, “Basic White Girl,” with the event on masculinity and whiteness. Jason Cha, director of ICP, moderated the panel, which included Dan Taylor, Assistant Director of Res Life; Tim Miller, Armington RD; Dr. Don Patterson, Professor of Computer Science; and Ben Thomas himself.
When asked why they were drawn to the idea of hosting the event on Westmont’s campus a second time, Ben Thomas replied, “There is always a need to encourage white students to engage in anti-racism work, and when we can join racial identities with other identities that are socially significant, it becomes appealing and encouraging to hear. And we do think the way white men and women interact with race are different, which is why we do the two events separately.” He was especially encouraged to see so many first-year guys, especially those who are applying to be Resident Assistants and community leaders, as well as various members of Westmont’s community show up. Thomas says “it was really wonderful to see that commitment and desire to learn and engage in this work … to ask questions [about] whiteness and masculinity as they interact on our campus and in the world.”
Though Lauren Marino was not a part of the panel herself, she mentioned that having Jason Cha moderate brought the “male perspective that I did not have, even though he is a person of color.” She says the space WRJ has provided has changed her life in so many ways, especially now as a co-leader. Though she is currently having to think about more ways to actively ask her peers to attend Intercultural Program events and/or meetings, she says, “I don’t want to force people, because I think that they come into their own racial consciousness and identity in their own timing. I’ll just be ready to be there for them when they are interested in learning more about their racial identity.”
About 45 people, including Westmont students, faculty, and staff members came to “But I’m Just a White Guy.” Within two hours, the event switched between questions and answers/narratives from the panelists to small group discussions. The panel discussion went to ask the importance of white men participating in the conversation of race/ethnicity to feelings of guilt towards marginalized groups. Small group discussions included reading passages from Robin DiAngello’s article, “Why is it so Hard to Talk to White People About Racism” and self-reflecting on where each member felt like they were in the conversation of issues relating to race.
Following the event, Dr. Patterson reflected that being on the panel was hard but formative. He says, “[it] is spiritual work, so I’m doing it as an act of obedience for what Jesus is calling me to do … to step up and be present for the conversations because I don’t have to be.”