Public university replaces staff meetings with sensitivity training on ‘heterosexual privilege,’ ‘language privilege’
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Standard performance reviews at Western Washington University (WWU) have become monthly sensitivity trainings in “heterosexual privilege,” and “gender privilege” according to one anonymous staff member.
The assemblies, called “[Dean of Students] Unit Cultural Competency Staff Meetings,” occur approximately once a month, according to an emailed schedule obtained by Campus Reform. Upcoming meeting topics include “gender privilege,” “heterosexual privilege,” “nationality privilege,” “language privilege,” and “intersectionality.”
“At the beginning of the Cultural Competency Staff Meetings several employees felt uncomfortable talking about sensitive racial topics, so we were told not to share conversations from the meetings outside of [them],” the anonymous staff member wrote in an email.
“I felt I would be discriminated against based on my political and religious beliefs, and because I don’t believe the content of the meetings will reduce racism or other ‘isms’,” the WWU staff member told Campus Reform anonymously for fear of retribution. “The primary theme of the meetings makes people considered privileged feel guilty and minorities feel self-pity.”
The WWU staff member said that the meetings were now optional though that wasn’t always the case.
“At the beginning of the Cultural Competency Staff Meetings several employees felt uncomfortable talking about sensitive racial topics, so we were told not to share conversations from the meetings outside of [them],” the anonymous staff member wrote in an email. “Some people still didn't feel comfortable so the Dean of Students said the meetings are optional if you don’t feel comfortable attending.”
There does appear to be an air of confidentiality among the staff members who attend the meetings; several requests for interview made by Campus Reform either went unanswered or were abruptly cancelled.
Jim Schuster, director of the Viking Union facilities, told Campus Reform that the meetings help the staff “be more prepared to work with the eclectic mix of students we have here,” but was unwilling to go into any further detail.
Dean of Students Theodore Pratt said that while “there’s always going to be someone that may find some issue,” the overall feedback his office has gotten has been positive.
“What we do is if there are areas of people that are maybe marginalized or seems [sic] to fall between the cracks, or if you’re looking at veterans, people with disability, maybe it’s women, gender issues, religious issues, we want to make our staff sensitive,” Pratt told Campus Reform.
Pratt, who has overseen students at the university as dean for 15 years, said the meetings are visited by “experts” on gender issues and -isms from the community or broader organizations to help teach WWU employees. Reading materials are also a part of the staff meetings, including pieces such as Robert Jensen’s “White Privilege Shapes the U.S.” and Alexander Stille’s “The Paradox of the New Elite.”
“Whether it’s gender, religious preference or anything that might be a group that might be coming in that may feel like there isn’t enough understanding about them, we try to make sure that our staff are prepared as our population has diversified and that we’re prepared to help our staff best communicate with those groups and those individuals,” he said.
These meetings are strictly for WWU staff members—no students are allowed to attend—and it is unclear if they have had any influence on the student body.
“It’s really important, I think, that somebody continues to look into these and ask people who are at these colleges if we are really preparing our young people to be prepared to be global citizens, to have that kind of exposure, and for me, if we’re asking the student to have that kind of growth and development than we without question should be making sure that our staff are equally prepared,” Pratt said.
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