PATRICIA SHINE’S WORK SHEDS LIGHT ON RACISM. At first glance, the study of race and racism in Vermont is a puzzler. Why would one of the nation’s “whitest states” have a need for diversity training or discussions about racism in schools?
Lyndon State Associate Professor Patricia Shine would argue that racism grows out of the “systemic and institutionalized white privilege” inherent in our country’s fabric. “What most people who are white don’t think about is that white is a race, too. Just as being African-American or Asian-American shapes who people are, so does being European-American. And most people who are white are unaware of the advantages that come with being white.”
Shine received one of two Faculty Fellow awards given each semester by the Vermont State College Board of Trustees. The Fellowship honors tenured faculty who show “outstanding accomplishments in teaching and learning.” She spent the past year on sabbatical working on the issues of racism and white privilege and crisscrossing the state to hold workshops and training seminars on the topics.
“My experience, particularly in teaching a course on race and racism, is that for white students there is a moment of understanding,” that the privileges they enjoy in society come from simply being white-skinned, Shine explains. She notes that students move from “I’m clueless to awareness to anger and shame to action. After the realization hits, they can’t stop seeing it everywhere.” Shine asks her students to answer “now, what am I going to do about it?”
Shine is quick to point out that racism is but one of the “isms” that are woven into our society. “It can be helpful to make distinctions between how individuals behave and how these behaviors are supported or ignored or punished in our larger society. An ‘ism’ implies an ideology, a way that we structure our thinking. These include sexism, classism, ageism and heterosexism. They can also be understood by their opposite—privilege.”
Using her personal history as an example, Shine said, “My father was able to secure a home loan in the 1940s that was available to returning veterans. There was a push to get them housing. Along with these low mortgage rates were racial covenants. Black servicemen were not allowed to take advantage of these low rates. My siblings and I were able to reap the benefits of that by selling the house when my parents died but the families of those black servicemen did not have the same chance. They had been renting all these years. It’s a clear example of white economic advantage.”
“There’s no hierarchy of oppression,” Shine adds. “We are all dehumanized by ‘isms’. People need to realize that to work for equity is to help themselves. All of it is for us; we are all impacted by inequality. We are flawed human beings. There is virtue in becoming invested in your own humanity.”
Shine worked with the Campus Climate Committee in fall 2011 to develop a diversity questionnaire which examined how to “excavate the ‘isms’ on campus.” She wants the “faculty to be aware of how they teach and to understand that language is very important. Stereotypes inform feelings.”
Shine concludes by saying, “Vermont is in a very special place right now. The demographics are changing and unlike so many parts of the country, we can do it right. We can be an inclusive, welcoming state.” She adds, “It’s critical that we educate ourselves.”
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