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Students lead conversation on deconstructing whiteness

On Tuesdays, Mills students are coming together to reflect on accountability with racism, unlearning white privilege and building a better allyship with people of color on campus.

The Deconstructing Whiteness meetings are set to converse and unlearn racism and white privilege on Mills’ campus. At the Sept. 24 meeting, senior Evelyn Carmack led the discussion on what the series would revolve around. The meetings are held in a non-structured manner, allowing the participants to feel like they are in a safe space.

Senior Nazanin Szanto felt that these dialogues will start larger conversations about privilege, not just on campus, but also in the community. Because of that, Szanto still feels that she has more to learn about privilege and racism in society.

“I believe that I myself am still in the processes of being educated, as it is a journey and not an end point,” Szanto said in an email. “I’m really invested in starting conversations, not to disrespect people or condescend them, but in hopes to get them to think about things they might not have before.”

At the Sept. 24 meeting, the group discussed cultural appropriation and its harm toward marginalized communities. Szanto introduced the topic with a definition from Fordham University Law Professor Susan Scafidi,  describing it as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission.”

According to Scafidi, this includes the “unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways, or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”

This conversation fueled Szanto’s hope to spread a strong realization about cultural awareness in every day life, even through hair styles and fashion choices, i.e. dreadlocks, mohawks and bindis.

“I hope to bring awareness to the harm that appropriation causes and redirect the ‘appreciation’ for certain cultures back into those POC communities,” Szanto said. “What I mean by this is that there is still a lot of oppression in America, and around the world.”

The meetings are open to the public and are usually held in Room 103, found in the F.W. Olin library. Times vary; keep an eye on student news to see what time the next meeting will be at.