University of Utah Challenging Whiteness in Practice Summer 2007
Office: 308C MBH Directed Reading for 5 Master’s Students mailbox in 307 MBH
First summer session Audrey Thompson voicemail: 587-7803
Class meets in 386 MBH ECS 6960 fax: 587-7801, recept. 587-7814 email:


The purpose of this course is to study whiteness theory with a view to developing practical, relational, and creative responses to the normalization of whiteness in classrooms and other educational settings. Increasingly, progressive educators have taken up whiteness theory as a way to help white students recognize that racism is more than a matter of prejudice; it is also a question of how white privilege, dominance, and centrality are normalized. Whiteness theory is intended to make white cultural assumptions and privileges visible so that whites do not assume that their own position is neutral or normal. Although in many ways consistent with the aims of multicultural theory, whiteness theory is also distinct from multiculturalism. Multicultural theory involves fostering an appreciation of cultures other than the dominant culture; in its more radical forms, multiculturalism also involves problematizing the assumptions of the dominant culture. But because multicultural approaches are concerned with displacing white culture from its position of dominance, they usually do not focus on whiteness as a distinctive culture or identity. Whiteness theory focuses specifically on whiteness as a position and identity that, to a considerable extent, are gained at the expense of people of color.

Whiteness theory makes an important contribution to anti-racist inquiry by making visible the ways in which white privilege and dominance are actively fostered and maintained. But whereas whiteness theory is often concerned primarily with analysis, deconstruction, and critique, this class will move towards productive and creative ways to rethink and rearticulate whiteness. Each student is to develop a project in her or his area of interest that makes visible the workings of whiteness, while also lending support to new ways of moving. Examples of projects might include a high school social studies unit on the Civil War, a curriculum for museum docents, a restructuring of parent-teacher conferences, a workshop on documentary photographs, or a rethinking of relational pedagogy in the classroom.

The emphasis in the projects should be on setting a direction for yourself and laying the groundwork for new explorations and undertakings. I am less interested in seeing complete and polished lesson plans, for example, than in hearing about the thinking that goes into starting a different kind of lesson plan. Where do you begin to look for resources, how do you start to think about the existing structures of learning and meaning-making, how do you provide back-up for alternative ways of thinking and learning? To the extent that the emphasis in a lesson plan is on a polished product, it probably will not be all that useful to you — it will become an artifact, rather than a tool to initiate change. What I would like to see instead, therefore, is something that gives me a rich sense of how you can begin to think about preparing your students differently — prepare them to enter into a new kind of conversation with you and with one another. The same principle applies to other kinds of projects. The emphasis should not be on pristine plans or finished analyses but on alternative approaches that are somewhat open-ended, approaches for which you are figuring out some first steps.

The projects should include a written commentary (5-7 pages) explaining your thinking as well as concrete materials that you develop that would be useful to you in decentering whiteness in educational work. It may be helpful to think of the midterm analysis as providing an example of the kind of decentering you want to support (e.g., a deconstruction of whiteness in a painting or a novel) and then, for the final project, develop some of the tools, collect the resources, and undertake the pedagogical rethinking needed to help others enter into conversation with you about that analysis in your context (e.g., a museum or a sixth-grade classroom).


The class will meet twice a week, each time discussing the readings on the syllabus. To participate actively in class, it is essential that you read carefully, prepare questions, and jot down any issues you wish to discuss. I will make short presentations to provide necessary background information. My primary role, however, will be to ask questions, clarify points raised in our discussions, and summarize the important issues that we discuss.


Ann Berlak and Sekani Moyenda, Taking It Personally: Racism in the Classroom from Kindergarten to College (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001).

articles available on electronic reserve at the Marriott library

Course Requirements

In addition to the assigned reading, regular attendance, and participation grounded in the readings, course requirements include a midterm paper (5 pages), and a longer final project with a written commentary (the commentary section should be approximately 5-7 pages). All papers should be typed, double-spaced, and proofread. Students will also give presentations of their projects at the end of the course.

Participation and attendance: 20% of grade Midterm paper: 30% of grade
Presentation of project: 10% of grade Final project: 40% of grade

Schedule of Class Topics and Reading

Wed. 9 May                                                         I. Introduction


Activities: Figure/ground drawing
discussion of Guidelines for Cross-Race Relations in the Classroom handout

Fri. 11 May                                                         II. Whiteness and Pedagogy


Mon. 14 May                                                         III. Race Relationships in the Classroom


Activity: discussion of Listening Virtues and Vices worksheet

Fri. 18 May                                                         IV. Mixed-Race Classrooms


Wed. 23 May                                                         V. Guilt and Responsibility


Activity: further discussion of Guidelines for Cross-Race Relations in the Classroom handout
further discussion of Listening Virtues and Vices worksheet

Th. 24 May                                                         VI. Innocence and Ignorance


Activities: Film and discussion: The Color of Fear

Tues. 29 May                                                     VII. Integrity, Coherence, and Definitional Logics


Th. 31 May                                                         VIII. Exoticization, Projection, and Selective Iconification


Activity: Deconstructing whiteness in film

Fri. 1 June                                                         Midterm Paper due by 7 p.m.

Mon. 4 June                                                     IX. Racial Formation and Investments in Whiteness


Wed. 6 June                                                     X. Frameworks and Categories of Analysis


Activities: Math worksheet

Th. 14 June                                                     XI. Writing and Rewriting White Stories

Guest Speaker: Dr. Rebecca Aanerud (University of Washington)


Tues. 26 June                                             XIII. Contradictions in Putting Anti-racism into Practice


Activities: Presentation of projects
Discussion of Whiteness Theory Teaching Tips worksheet

Fri. 13 July                                                   XIV. Whiteness and Religious Education

Guest Speaker:  Candis Harrington

Fri. 20 July                                                   Final projects due by 4:30 p.m.

Count by Muhammad Muquit

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