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Third World Transition Program
March 18, 2004 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Third World Transition Program. It's not a relief effort for resettled refugees - it's Brown University's pre-orientation forum "primarily for students of color." Brown President Ruth Simmons will apparently order TWTP to desegregate, but the organization will continue to invite only "students of color" - apparently self-identified from application forms - to participate. According to one student, the admittance of whites to TWTP "would change the level of comfort that's established." Another argued that whites would "compromise the program's integrity and mission." "I can't help laughing when a white person tells me that they understand and experience racism," adds a Brown Daily Herald columnist. But many TWTP alumni are also its harshest critics. "We were given advice on how to 'deal' with a white roommate," writes one student. "It fostered an 'us vs. them' mentality with white students on campus and directly and indirectly encouraged minority students to seek out friendships with students of color before white students arrived on campus." Another reports that him TWTP peers shunned him when he began reaching out to other campus groups because he "found people who I had more in common with than an ethnic background." When TWTP was founded 30 years ago, it certainly served a valuable purpose in a tumultuous and changing social environment. But how do mainstream folks wrest the debate from both the far left and far right, convince the organization that its harm outweighs its good, and urge it to reform itself from within and help unify rather than segregate the student body?
posted by PrinceValium (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Full disclosure: I'm Brown class of '99 and a former BDH columnist, but I didn't touch the issue when I was an undergrad.
posted by PrinceValium at 12:23 PM on March 18, 2004


"I can't help laughing when a white person tells me that they understand and experience racism,"

I lived and worked in Compton for four months. My first day there a small bit of civil rest associated with the Rodney King trial. My education in experiencing and understanding racism actually got a pretty good start there.

The Us vs. Them comment is right on. Once you put another human being outside of empathy, you've doomed yourself to a division. Maybe there's times when that's necessary, but drawing that distinction across racial lines is a poor idea.
posted by weston at 12:24 PM on March 18, 2004


civil unrest, sorry.
posted by weston at 12:24 PM on March 18, 2004


What would help is a program addressing incoming white students who need help with issues of privilege and racism. This would go further to obviate the need for a Third World Transition program than this attempt to mollycoddle the "mainstream folks" who feel threatened when so many people of color congregate in one place at one time outside of the ghettos.
posted by sudama at 12:39 PM on March 18, 2004


I can't help laughing when a white person tells me that they understand and experience racism [...]

I don't know if I understand racism, but I certainly experienced it while backpacking in China as a white guy. Although most people treated me very well, there were quite a few who clearly disliked all foreigners and weren't afraid to show it. No group should try to monopolize being victims of racism.
posted by Triplanetary at 12:46 PM on March 18, 2004


Having dark skin in America is probably a lot like backpacking in China as a white guy. Can anyone comment on this?
posted by sudama at 1:00 PM on March 18, 2004


sudama, probably the similar in the same way that living in a hostile neigborhood with people trying to kill you based on your appearance is the same as going to Vietnam. A person could experience the former, and therefore have some empathy for the latter, even without a completely analagous experience.
posted by weston at 1:16 PM on March 18, 2004


Wow, a two-fer for me!

First: I have dark skin, and have backpacked through China. I loved it and had a great time. I was in China for a total of five months, and heard one comment that could be construed as racist: it was the equivalent of "black ghost." Other than that, people just thought I was from Africa and stared at me.

Second: As this recent cartoon that appeared in one of the school papers on my campus shows, we're not quite there yet.
posted by h00dini at 1:20 PM on March 18, 2004


I think you're missing the point, sudama. Are you suggesting that people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds should be encouraged to congregate in predetermined homogeneous communities even when they go to school in a multicultural, multiethnic environment? How does this enhance the educational experience?
posted by PrinceValium at 1:21 PM on March 18, 2004


Once you put another human being outside of empathy, you've doomed yourself to a division.

Race in America is fucked up. People of color and whites alike need at times to be able to talk amongst themselves in a comfortable supportive space where they can examine thoughts and feelings associated with experiences of racial identity and race relations. It seems vindictive if not racist to try to take that space away from students of color. Certainly not an empathetic move.
posted by sudama at 1:32 PM on March 18, 2004


Nobody's taking it away.
posted by deadcowdan at 1:52 PM on March 18, 2004


hey i went to TWTP! you get to move in early and i hadn't seen the campus yet so i thought it'd be a good way to get acquainted with (preppy!) people and have a look around. it was, but i left after a day or two... my dad was still around so we thought it'd be neat to visit my cousins in queens and catch the US open before school started :D

from what i saw, it was a bit "indoctrinaty," but i'd say no more than getting chosen for slytherin or whatever or, dare i say, a multiethnic (nonwhite :) frat. simmons' btw has also made her way to the front of the reparations debate :D

go bears!
posted by kliuless at 1:52 PM on March 18, 2004


A friend of mine who went to Brown expressed the concern that it encouraged incoming minority students to create those all-important initial friendships with each other, thus effectively increasing their level of segregation from the rest of the student population. Sounds like not a good thing to me.
posted by alms at 2:02 PM on March 18, 2004


People of color and whites alike need at times to be able to talk amongst themselves in a comfortable supportive space where they can examine thoughts and feelings associated with experiences of racial identity and race relations. It seems vindictive if not racist to try to take that space away from students of color. Certainly not an empathetic move.

It's definitely a healthy thing to be able to find the people who share your ethnic and cultural identity, and the world is a lonely place when you don't have that.

But if most of your discourse takes place with those people... well, the phrase echo chamber comes to mind.

I live in Utah. Just imagine for a moment what it'd be like if I let my perceptions of people of different ethnicities and cultures be solely (or even largely) informed by my conversations with my peers here.
posted by weston at 2:16 PM on March 18, 2004


I think its full of shit. I am a gay man. I have been witness to discrimination my whole life.

I have been a member of many 'GLBT' organizations that had their share of straight people. Every organization I have ever belonged to has been open to anyone. As long as people are supportive, it gives a great sense of community and acceptance of diversity when you allow others into your ranks.

If someone doesn't fit in or causes a disruption, ban him or her from attending, but a blanket ban on an entire group of people is nonsense without any justification.

How anyone can claim to want to fight racism with racism is beyond me.

If you don't feel comfortable with a certain group of people and you want to congregate with others who feel the same way, go right ahead, but don't expect your prejudice to be sanctioned.
posted by PigAlien at 2:33 PM on March 18, 2004


Sudama:
What would help is a program addressing incoming white students who need help with issues of privilege and racism.


I absolutely agree. Having gone to UCLA, which is very multicultural (although definitely different in having 30 to 40 percent Asian undergraduates), I would say all undergraduate programs should require a class in it. Even if not actually racist, most people, even the college-educated, seem not to be cosmopolitan, at least in the sense of being "free from local attachments or prejudices; not provincial."


posted by halonine at 2:49 PM on March 18, 2004


"People of color and whites alike need at times to be able to talk amongst themselves in a comfortable supportive space where they can examine thoughts and feelings associated with experiences of racial identity and race relations. It seems vindictive if not racist to try to take that space away from students of color. Certainly not an empathetic move."

If you have feelings associated with experiences of racial identity and relations, why do you think you have anything to lose by sharing those with a person of another race?

To say that white people don't understand racism is complete and utter nonsense. We're living in the same world as the rest of you. Some people choose not to see it, but it doesn't mean that its not plainly visible for anyone who wants to see it.

Gee, BECAUSE I'm white, I've had countless people over the years make racist comments (and homophobic, I might add) to me because they assumed it was 'ok' since I was white.

I've seen how these same racists treat black people. Sometimes cordially, sometimes not.

I've seen countless movies about racism and slavery and learned all about the civil rights movement in school.

I very often think to myself, "It sucks to be black in America". Sometimes I wish I could step into the shoes of a black person to understand what it is like.

Assuming that because someone has approximately the same skin color as you that they are going to understand you or sympathize with you is just as racist as the white people who assume its ok to make jokes about black people to other white people.
posted by PigAlien at 2:53 PM on March 18, 2004


How sad. Me and my lilac ass could be walking by and someone could stereotype me right on the spot. I guess things really haven't changed much, have they?
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:37 PM on March 18, 2004


Most minority students who can get into Brown are too smart to let silly things like the TWTP get in their way. Even those naive enough to let themselves be indoctrinated grow out of it soon enough.

You can prove this to yourself, at least if you're (like me) in your early 30's. Google the most notorious race activists from your undergraduate days ... you'll find more investment bankers, upscale real estate brokers, and chief dermatology residents than you can shake a stick at.

A lot of the objection seems to be more about personal offense than about policy or principle -- I can't even imagine what business a white person has being offended if a black person chooses to mainly hang out with other black people on the weekends -- that's freedom for you.
posted by MattD at 4:50 AM on March 19, 2004


What would help is a program addressing incoming white students who need help with issues of privilege and racism.

sudama, when i was at brown, this was a significant component of the first-year orientation - "we know many of you have grown up in more homogenous environments (race/class/etc.) than you'll find here, and you might want to consider what assumptions you're coming with because of that, etc". i don't know how far it went in actually addressing anything, but at least it made these issues "spoken" rather than unspoken.
posted by judith at 10:14 AM on March 19, 2004


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