Education

Notre Dame Bringing Back Controversial White Privilege Course

The University of Notre Dame is bringing back its highly controversial “White Privilege Seminar” for the spring 2016 semester. The sociology course promises “personal transformation” for students by educating and training them in preparation for the annual White Privilege Conference, which students will be required to attend.

According to the course description, students will be instructed “on the definitions of, historical/current paradigm of, and causes/effects of white privilege,” which is usually defined as “a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others.”

The White Privilege Conference, according to its website, is “a conference that examines challenging concepts of privilege and oppression and offers solutions and team building strategies to work toward a more equitable world.” The organizers go out of their way to claim that the conference is not “designed to attack, degrade or beat up on white folks.”

Last year’s conference featured lectures on topics such as “White Fragility,” which the lecturer claimed was the result of the “racially privileged social environment” in which American white people live. Another lecture focused on the “corrosive effects of whiteness.”

Every year the conference features racially-segregated “caucuses”: one for people of color and indigenous peoples, one for mixed-race people, and a third for white people. According to the program from last year’s conference, the caucus for white people focuses on “racial privilege” while the other two caucuses focus on “racial oppression.”

Notre Dame’s description for the course echoes terminology used by the conference organizers and claims that “people consciously and unconsciously simultaneously participate in and are affected by systems of oppression; however, since these behaviors can be learned, they can also be unlearned.”

Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen expressed concern about the apparent one-sidedness of the course in an email to The Daily Caller. “Universities – including Notre Dame – talk a great deal about the importance of ‘critical thinking,’ but this claim may be hollow when considering courses that are premised on a foregone conclusion,” Deneen said.

“Courses such as this lead me to worry whether students are encouraged to question whether ‘white privilege’ exists, whether they would be encouraged to raise questions or challenge the professor, and whether students who might share the course’s conclusion will be actually engage in ‘critical thinking’ about their own assumptions.”

Notre Dame was sharply criticized in Catholic circles when it announced plans to hold the course for the first time in the Spring 2015 semester. The Cardinal Newman Society, whose stated mission is “to promote and defend faithful Catholic education,” slammed the university for participating in the conference, which the Society called anti-Christian.

Last year’s White Privilege Conference included lectures on “Christian hegemony” and “Christian extremists” and participants were instructed to learn and use terminology such as “Christonormativity,” which the conference defined as “The system of oppression which assumes Christianity as the norm, favors Christians, and denigrates and stigmatizes anyone that is not Christian. Equates Americanness with Christianity.”

TheDC reached out to Dr. Ann Power — the sociology department’s director of undergraduate studies — to ask about the rationale behind the course but she deferred to the university’s media relations team. Dennis Brown, the university’s assistant VP of Media Relations, did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment by press time.

Follow Peter Hasson on Twitter @PeterJHasson