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How did news of Carleton’s antiracism training spread to conservative websites?

On Monday, May 24, faculty and staff participated in their last anti-racism training session, marking the end of a series of monthly community-wide webinars and affinity group discussions that have been required since January.   

The impetus for the training was the August 9 “Open Letter for Carleton College” and demands made by the Ujamaa Collective—which is composed of student leaders from the Black Student Alliance, African and Caribbean Association, Men of Color and Student Department Advisors for Africana Studies. 

This document outlined experiences of racism, discrimination and disenfranchisement of Black students, staff and faculty, and included “mandatory anti-racist training for all incoming and current faculty, staff, administrators, and students” among its initial set of demands.  

In response, the college developed a plan for a “required program of externally-provided anti-racism training for all current faculty and staff and critical volunteer groups”—which includes members of the Board of Trustees, Multicultural Alumni Network Board, Parents Council and Alumni Council.  

By September, Kathy Evertz, former Community, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (CEDI) co-chair, was appointed as project manager and tasked with carrying the anti-racism training forward.  Evertz shared that the CEDI Action Team then researched more than 30 potential trainers, and the Antiracism Training Task Force—a group that had some overlap with the Action Team—completed interviews with potential trainers in order to develop a short list.

They identified Minnesota-based Dr. Bryana French and Dr. Stephen Brookfield of antiracistraining.org as “the trainers most able to respond to the spirit and recommendations of the CEDI Action Team Proposal,” said Evertz.  French and Brookfield had previously worked together to address race and racism as a Black and white, female and male team.   

Once appointed, French and Brookfield submitted a proposal to “lead a conversation across institutional silos that would familiarize everyone in the Carleton community on some issues surrounding race and racism” and to introduce a “common vocabulary” over the nearly five months of training, as part of a multi-year effort for institutional change.  

Their first college-wide presentation on January 21 stated their intent “to ‘normalize’ race talk by making it an expected theme that will inform everyday meetings, teaching and planning across the community—not something that only arises when hate speech or some other event clearly diminishes Carleton BIPOC community members.”

The training was structured around four main themes: racial identity, racism, microaggressions or implicit bias and bystander interventions or allyship.  Brookfield said they decided to begin with racial identity because “in predominantly white institutions we’ve worked in we’ve noticed that some of the white majority don’t acknowledge that they have a racial identity at all.”

Each month, French and Brookfield opened with a community-wide webinar.  Faculty and staff were then expected to choose from one of twelve “affinity groups”—including one biracial/multiracial group, three BIPOC affinity groups, one “open to all racial identities” group, and seven white affinity groups—in which they discussed the topic introduced at the community-wide event. 

French led all the BIPOC groups and Brookfield led all the white affinity groups, and together they facilitated the “open to all racial identities” group.

“In our experience, there are benefits to processing the experience of race and racism with people who have a shared racial identity or racialized experience,” said French. “The same reasoning behind shared experience and positionality influenced our decision of who would lead which sessions, and is a strength of our team.”

Nonoko Sato ’00, who participated in the training as a member of the Carleton Alumni Council and the Task Force, said that “as an Asian woman, [she] appreciated the opportunity to break into affinity groups to be with other folks of color.” She also liked having two facilitators of different genders, race, age and experiences, as they were able to cater to the wide range of participants.

French and Brookfield write, “We appreciate that these affinity groupings may feel overly simplistic and binary given the complexity of racial identity development, yet believe the benefits outweigh the limitations.”  

These affinity groups are what led a number of right-leaning websites to pick up the story.  On April 19, The College Fix published an article entitled “Minnesota college forces faculty to attend racially segregated anti-racism training” and within the week, it had spread to a number of other sites—including The Center Square, Newsweek, and The Daily Wire.

French was the first to learn of this coverage, when she received an email from an editor of The College Fix asking for her response to some questions about their approach. 

She then also received an email from Mark Perry—an economics professor at the University of Michigan-Flint who is associated with the American Enterprise Institute—who had “concerns about the affinity groups.” Dr. French consulted with Carleton leadership and chose not to respond.

The College Fix mentioned a particular presentation slide from March, which read: “we’ve been told that in some groups that after saying that there’s no racial problem at Carleton some people just refuse to participate.”  

Evertz said she was unsurprised by this statement because “you’re always going to see a range of reactions to anything that’s mandatory, and I think the intensity of some reactions can be attributed to the subject matter.  I recall hearing about a few refusals to participate—in the small breakout discussions—during the first month or two training […] but this was not a widespread reaction.   

Dr. French said that “for people participating in the BIPOC and Multiracial groups, a particular appreciation was shared for a space to feel supported and affirmed as a racial and ethnic minority on campus, and many expressed hope to continue those affinity groups,” while she acknowledged that she and Brookfield “have also received critiques and are aware of limitations.”

Some of the feedback they received was: “the desire for unit-specific discussions, discussions with people at similar levels of expertise around race [and] racism, and a concern that this will not lead to institutional change.”

According to Evertz, CEDI will be working with Assistant Vice President of Institutional Research and Assessment Todd Jamison in the coming weeks to assess the training.

Update: Tuesday, June 1 — A number of small stylistic updates were made following a final revision of the article by the author. The content of the piece was not changed.

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