In the midst of UT looking for a new vice chancellor for diversity and the CCI Diversity Week having finished earlier this month, students will get a chance tonight to hear a critique on such university-driven diversity programs.
Tim Wise, one of the most prominent anti-racism writers and speakers in the country, will be at UT today at 7:30 p.m. in the UC Auditorium. Entitled "An Evening with Tim Wise: 'Beyond Diversity: Challenging Racism in an Age of Backlash,'" Wise will address institutional diversity programs and bring attention to how such programs often fail.
The event was organized and coordinated by the UTK Progressive Student Alliance (PSA). Melanie Barron, graudate student in geography and member of PSA, said that the goal of bringing Wise to UT was to shed more light on institutional racism.
"We noticed overall that there is a problem with students ... not understanding racism as an interpersonal issues versus being an institutional problem," Barron said. "People would say ... 'Racism isn't a big deal any more.' But if you know anything about the United States and current problems, especially with poverty ... then you know that institutional racism is still a big problem."
Barron expects that Wise's lecture will not only be well attended but also somewhat controversial.
"Thinking about racism in an institutional way makes some people kind of uncomfortable, especially white people," Barron said. "Because a lot of people think that if you think of white privilege it automatically puts this undue burden on you."
But Barron added, "I think it's important to bring this conversation to the campus community because making a diverse community shouldn't just be a responsibility that's placed on our students of color. Rather, everybody should be coming together to learn how we are a part of an unjust system."
Jordan Welsh, freshman in history and fellow PSA member, shared the sentiment.
"Society doesn't teach you how harmful racism can actually be," Welsh said. "Textbooks don't teach you how harmful racism is. So you have to branch out. You have to get actual people who know this stuff. I think Tim Wise has a lot of experience in anti-racist education."
Wise has also written a number of books on the subject of race and white privilege including "Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority," "Affirmative Action: Racial Preference in Black and White" and "White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son."
According to their Facebook page, the PSA is a student group that describes itself as an "activist student group" that "fight(s) for issues on our campus and in our community through grassroots organizing efforts and popular education."
Numerous UT departments and organizations helped the PSA fund this event, including the geography, sociology, American Studies, English and global studies departments, as well as the College of Social Work. PSA also applied for and was awarded a $5,000 grant from UT's Ready for the World committee.
"They all pitched in to help bring this programming to campus," Barron said.
Tim Wise will be giving his presentation at 7:30 p.m. in the UC Auditorium. All students, faculty and staff are welcomed to attend.