Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Witnessing in Action: Developing and Sustaining White Affinity Groups

On Friday, April 26th, 2013, fellow Lower School teacher Maria Barton and I attended AISNE's "Witnessing in Action: Developing and Sustaining White Affinity Groups" workshop led by Shelley Tochluk, author of "Witnessing Whiteness" at the Phillips Exeter School.  Maria and I are both members of the BB&N Lower School's diversity steering committee this year, as our faculty reads Shelly's book.

At the workshop we heard from both Shelly and Jason David.  Shelly is "the author of Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk abut Race and How to Do It, a book about why race remains an essential issue, how race affects people's daily lives and interactions, and practical steps we can take to serve racial justice. Shelly's experiences with UCLA's NCAA Division-1 All-American Track and Field 4X400 meter relay team and her elementary and middle school, inner city teaching experiences shaped her personal dedication to confront issues of race. An educator, with a background in psychology, Shelly Tochluk spent ten years as a researcher, counselor, and teacher in California's public schools. She received her Ph.D. in Depth Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2005 where she investigated how white racial identity impacts friendship relationships. She now trains teachers to work with Los Angeles' diverse school population as Chair of the Education Department at Mount St. Mary's College." Jason David is "a co-founder of the Alliance for White Anti-Racists Everywhere - Los Angeles (AWARE-LA), a white anti-racist organization that provides resources and community space for consciousness-raising, alliance-building, and movement-building. As a facilitator of monthly dialogues through AWARE-LA, he has helped to carefully construct and navigate discussions on numerous topics related to race and whiteness. He is also a high school teacher at Wildwood School in Los Angeles."

As a group of independent school teachers and administrators interested in promoting anti-racism, we discussed the development of white affinity groups at our respective schools.  "White affinity groups focus on dialogue and support the development of healthy racial identity and effective anti-racist practices, both essential for building relationships across race. This session [began] by reviewing the model of Witnessing Whiteness, a foundational approach to developing white anti-racist identity that involves building knowledge, skills, capacity, and community."  We also looked at our individual schools and considered what steps we would need to take to create support groups on our own campuses and thought about potential setbacks, particularly resistance from various community members.  We even had an opportunity to practice dialogue around resistance, as these skills need to be practiced again and again to be mastered.  We left the gathering with workshop agendas created by AWARE-LA to support the creation of white anti-racist groups and their subsequent dialogue on the development of a white anti-racist identity and practice.

-Megan Haddadi

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