'Witnessing Whiteness' Second Cohort Begins Sept. 1

Jul. 20, 2020

'Witnessing Whiteness' Limited Registration Now Open Through July 24

Updated July 21, 2020: The interest in Webster University's fall 2020 cohort of Witnessing Whiteness was incredibly high. Registration was completed within three hours of the July 20 announcement. At this time, individuals expressing an interest will receive an email informing them that they will be added to a waitlist and will also be encouraged to email the YWCA at WitnessingWhiteness@ywcastl.org and they will provide options if space is available.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion, in collaboration with the YWCA, is excited to host a second cohort of a Witnessing Whiteness group to launch in September for our St. Louis area faculty and staff.

The first cohort successfully completed the program last fall, and some of the participants are featured in this video A Look at the Diverse Reactions to Webster University's Witnessing Whiteness Program, which was produced to introduce Witnessing Whiteness author, Shelly Tochluk’s presentation during our 5th Annual Diversity and Inclusion Conference in February.

Witnessing Whiteness Group’s History and Goals

Since 2011, the YWCA has been sponsoring Witnessing Whiteness groups as part of its mission to eliminate racism. In Witnessing Whiteness, white people voluntarily come together to do work around racism in a supportive, non-threatening setting. It is about learning to speak about race and racism, exploring white privilege, and practicing allying with sisters and brothers of color. Witnessing Whiteness groups are designed for individuals who identify as white, and the theory behind the group is that white people are more comfortable asking questions regarding racism, including whether their own habits might be seen as racist, when Black people or members of other ethnic minorities are not present.

The work of Witnessing Whiteness groups draws on the book “Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk About Race and How to Do It,” by Shelly Tochluk. The book has nine chapters and while group sessions draw on the book, the work is about participants’ own lives, not textual analysis. During group meetings, participants consider their own lives in light of what they are learning through individual reflection as well as exercises that occur in pairs, triads, and the entire group.

To watch Shelly Tochluck speak about race and her work behind her book, listen to her TedX talk here.

The Witnessing Whiteness groups strive to:

  • Create spaces where individuals who identify and experience the world as white persons can gain additional information, practice, scholarship and insight into creating a more just and equitable world;
  • Invite participants into a community of other white people committed to positive change in their lives, workplace and region;
  • Provide a loving and healing atmosphere to learn about and grow in understanding & skills in one of the most difficult topics in our country, race;
  • Gain understanding of the intersections of race and systems;
  • Encourage advocacy, collaboration, and strategies for change, while increasing knowledge;
  • “Build knowledge, skills, capacities, and communities that support anti-racism practices” (Tochluk); and
  • Understand and practice interrupting racism, develop skills to act as agents of change.

Structure and Logistics

Three YWCA trained facilitators will guide the group through 10 two-hour sessions over 15 weeks (meeting approximately every other Tuesday)--one for each chapter of the book plus one to reflect on the whole and look forward. It is understood that some participants will likely miss one or more sessions, but it is important to commit to the group process and attend no less than 8 of the 10 sessions.

Due to the COVID-19, all sessions will be conducted virtually and with fewer participants than historically enrolled. The new configuration will accommodate a maximum of 18 participants and will be online via Zoom.

Sessions will begin on Tuesday, Sept. 1 and meet approximately every other Tuesday from 5:30-7:30 p.m. and will conclude on Dec. 8. In order to maintain a closed group of Webster University faculty and staff only, a minimum of 15 participants are required. If the minimum number of Webster faculty and staff do not enroll, the YWCA will fill the remaining seats with community members. The Tuesday dates are as follows:

  • Sept. 1
  • Sept. 8
  • Sept. 22
  • Sept. 29
  • Oct. 13
  • Oct. 27
  • Nov. 10
  • Nov. 17
  • Dec. 1
  • Dec. 8

Please commit to the group process and attend no less than 8 of the 10 sessions.

There are no costs to participate in this program; the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will provide the book, Witnessing Whiteness, for free to everyone who voluntarily participates in the group. Participation in the program was adopted by the Board of Trustees as a career development goal that can be listed on an annual job review. To sign up or if you have questions, please send an email, using your Webster account, to Vincent C. Flewellen, chief diversity officer, at vincentflewellen@webster.edu by this Friday, July 24.

If you would like to join a Witnessing Whiteness Group but cannot attend the Tuesday evening group at Webster, you may be able to sign up directly with YWCA to participate through one of their community groups. Please email witnessingwhiteness@ywcastl.org and they will provide options/locations if space is available.

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