Counseling Psychology Program Faculty Host "Our Relationship with White Supremacy" Panel Discussion

On January 22nd, the Wright Institute Counseling Psychology Program core faculty hosted "Our relationship with white supremacy: Faculty perspectives from target and non-target membership," a webinar in which faculty shared their experiences with white supremacy with Counseling Psychology program students. Faculty panelists discussed their own experiences with multicultural/diversity courses that they took in their graduate careers, and shared what they learned, what they didn't, and how they continue to engage knowledge, skills and advocacy related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. The event was the first in a three-part series; in the following parts, faculty members will discuss the concept of allyship and beloved community, and talk with students about the themes of the series.

Assistant Program Director Rebecca Stevenson, PsyD began the event by quoting author, professor, and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison: "In this country, American means white. Everybody else has to hyphenate."

The structure of white supremacy in our society can be described like an iceberg, a metaphor that some of the faculty made use of to frame their points of view. Overt white supremacy, the tip of the iceberg, involves widely socially unacceptable behaviors such as burning crosses and hate crimes. However, covert white supremacy, including behaviors such as the "bootstrap" theory or believing that we are "post racial," is largely socially acceptable and makes up the bulk of the structure of white supremacy.

"Events like January 6 are just the tip of the iceberg," said Stevenson. "The reach of white supremacy can also be subtle and go much further below."

Faculty members began by introducing themselves, their backgrounds, and their relationships with the structure of white supremacy. "Whiteness is far from my only identity," said part-time faculty member MacKenzie Stuart, "but my personal background doesn't decrease how much I benefit from white supremacy."

As an Asian American woman and immigrant, full-time faculty member Stephanie Chen, PhD shared her experiences with racism, discrimination, and internalized white supremacy, while also acknowledging the privileges of being Asian in this country. "Being the example of a model minority has opened up access to white spaces and white friends, which in turn have given me greater opportunities," added Chen.

"Many of the opportunities I have had have been undeniably linked to my white privilege," said part-time faculty member Raymond Buscemi, PsyD, who grew up on Long Island. "Because of white flight from the city, the Long Island I was raised on was a place with white supremacy in the soil. Growing up, I was consciously aware how few families on the block looked like us."

Other faculty members looked at the role their families played in their relationships with white supremacy. "The racism in my extended family was hidden in a series of jokes," said a faculty member. "My grandparents were Christian and working class. They taught us to always respect others, but racist jokes were still regularly told."

The bulk of the conversation focused on the faculty members' experiences with the multicultural courses they took while in graduate school. As the six faculty members who participated in the panel each shared their experiences, they reflected on how much more nuanced multicultural courses have become in recent years.

"When I went through grad school in the early 2000s, there was no acknowledgement of white supremacy as a term," said Chen. "I remember being in my multicultural class with almost all white students and thinking, 'Why would I share my experiences with these people? I'm not here to educate them.'"

"When I was an undergrad student in the 1990s, I was given a chart that discussed how to work with clients of different cultural identities. It was very straightforward, and didn't have any considerations of intersectionality," said full-time faculty member Kristin Dempsey, EdD.

Some faculty reflected that much more of their learning experiences have come from working with clients than from taking classes in graduate school. "I have to do my own work around anti-racism, every day," said Dempsey. "The other day, I felt myself wince at a headline that referred to 'white women's role in white supremacy.' I didn't want to read it at first, but I knew that I had to do that work. I have to recognize that I am somewhere on that iceberg."

While multicultural classwork in graduate education has come a long way in the past two decades, there is much more work to be done. However, Stevenson sees hope in the fact that these conversations are taking place. "I was telling a friend who is high up in the corporate banking world that we'd be talking about white supremacy today. She said to me, 'we've never talked about that at my job.' I think we sometimes don't see that our ability to even have these conversations where we work and learn is somewhat of a privilege in and of itself."

"One thing I'm grateful for at the Wright Institute is that it can be a potluck table for the exchange of ideas. I'm always getting suggestions of what to read or think about to help me on my journey," says Stuart. "I'm also grateful for the people in my life who have not hesitated to call me out on the microaggressions I have said or done."

"We all experience pain in our lives," said Buscemi, "But I truly believe that pain brings the promise of healing."

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