17 May 2014

On Diversity, Institutional Whiteness and Its Will for Change

On Diversity, Institutional Whiteness and Its Will for Change, by W. Anne Joh (Religious Studies News, May 2014)

Ask doctoral students from underrepresented communities of color how well they are being prepared for becoming theological educators in a rapidly changing climate and most will say “not well at all.” My reflections here revolve around a few questions that seem to emerge quite frequently in doctoral studies, especially from students of racial/ethnic minority communities and what institutional racism does to them during the process of going through a doctoral program. How are the needs of these students met or not met within the predominantly white institutions and programs whose curricula often reflect absence and foreclosure of the historical legacy of systemic racism? How can institutions committed to cultivating institutional diversity transform so that all students might thrive during their studies, become well prepared to enter their profession as educators, and be equipped to integrate into their teaching the quotidian issues that our societies face?

The life of white racism has neither been transformed nor dismantled even as university demographics change. If there has been any transformation of racialized dynamics and institutional racism, one could argue that race has become “a way of organizing and managing populations in order to attain certain societal goals such as . . . social unity.” Race as a technology of management conceals more than it reveals structures of inequality. Commitments to so-called institutional diversity can easily slide to the use of that term, diversity, solely as a form of institutional public relations. This form of diversity “work” changes perceptions of whiteness but does nothing to transform whiteness of institutions. As Sara Ahmed observes, “changing perceptions of whiteness can be how an institution can reproduce whiteness,” rather than dismantle it.