Elon School of Education has hosted ‘white caucus’ since fall, now faces backlash

Elon University’s School of Education is hosting, for the second semester in a row, a “white caucus” for “white-identifying” education majors or minors. The program, which has the goal to explore race and systemic oppression in education, comes after a summer of protests against racial injustice.

“White caucuses allow white-identifying allies to have these conversations in a way that does not burden or re-traumatize people of color,” an email sent about the program to School of Education students Tuesday reads. “White caucusing is one part of a lifelong and multifaceted commitment to antiracism for white-identifying people who are passionate about racial justice, and who want to begin taking concrete and direct action.”

Students looking to participate in the program are required to fill out a Google form where they are asked to adhere to a confidentiality agreement, which states “by signing up, participants agree to leave what is said in the caucus meetings within those meetings, and to not share anything outside of the group for any reason.”

For Elon freshman and Black student Jon Seaton, these meetings are a “horrible idea.” He said the meetings go against the university’s goal of inclusivity and should include students of color in the conversation.

“There’s no way you can get anything done on the issue,” Seaton said. “If you’re going to exclude the people who the issues are about out of the conversation, that’s counterintuitive. There’s just no positive outcome that comes from that.”

The backlash follows an article published by The Young America’s Foundation, known as YAF, which is a conservative youth organization. Former Vice President Mike Pence recently joined the organization as the foundation’s Ronald Reagan Presidential Scholar on Friday. 

School of Education students were made aware of the program at least one other time in an email dated Sept. 11, 2020, from Dean Ann Bullock. 

In the email addressed to students, Bullock said the program was created “as part of the School of Education’s  diversity, equity, inclusion initiatives.” Students were invited to participate in nine weeks of 75 minute “white caucuses” with Associate Professor of Education Scott Morrison.  

Bullock described the “white caucus” as somewhat new and cited a 2019 article written by Alex Vlasic, a white writer who focuses on the areas of social and racial justice. She currently serves as a teaching assistant for the UNtraining White Liberal Racism program in New England. 

“One of the most helpful tools when first approaching the roots of racism is caucusing,” the article said. “In this case, to caucus means to meet in separate identity groups—so you may have a white caucus and a PoC caucus, and depending on the group, people of mixed race might want their own caucus.” The article goes on to explain the benefits of hosting white caucuses.

“In forming a white caucus, we are relating to the realities of racism and the harm that it causes, rather than assuming or hoping that we can jump directly into interracial healing,” the article said. 

South Asian Elon senior Jaya Bhardwaj wrote in a statement to Elon News Network that she was not surprised to hear about the white caucus and was disappointed.

“The only way white people can actively change their opinions and learn something valuable is if they listen to the stories and very valid feelings of people of color,” Bhardwaj said. “If Elon wants to make strides to becoming an actively anti-racist institution, deliberately excluding their already limited people of color from the conversation is incredibly unproductive.”

Seaton said he felt like he had been “lied to” by the school after seeing the article. Seaton said he wants to go to one of the meetings.

“I would honestly go just to see what’s going on, and I know my presence there would make a lot of people uncomfortable, but quite frankly at that point, I don’t care,” Seaton said.

Dean Bullock, Morrison and students who signed the email sent to students today did not respond to Elon News Network’s immediate request for comment.

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