Sharing Experiences And Taking Responsibility: White Faculty And Staff Working Toward Racial Justice

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2018

Publication Title

Experience Magazine


Frustrated at the lack of response among White faculty and staff to racism on their Cincinnati campus, the authors of this piece draw from their own experiences and assert that it is possible–and necessary–for White faculty and staff to learn from these experiences and take responsibility in fighting racism. In support of this assertion, we draw on Kolb’s (1984) “What? So what? Now what?” model of experiential learning to address two specific goals within this article: increase accountability among White faculty and staff through the examination of localized instances of racial violence, and articulate concrete action steps that can be taken in response to racism. Beginning with an examination of racist violence on their own campus as well as the rhetoric surrounding these incidents, the authors demonstrate that each campus can be viewed as a microcosm in which systemic racism is enacted at the local level. The goal of this examination is not mere identification, but to cultivate a sense of personal accountability among White faculty and staff. We conclude with a series of practical steps as well as a call to action.

We began working on this piece not long after the shooting death of 18-year old Michael Brown Jr. at the hands of a White police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014. In the years that have passed since, the details of this incident, and many others that followed, have been replayed over and over in the national media. For us–current and former White faculty and staff at the University of Cincinnati–this incident was an important one to engage with for a few reasons. First, Michael Brown Jr. was a student. He was just two days shy of starting at Vatterott College, a technical school in the area. The similarities between him and our many students of color could not be ignored. Second, we believe that acts of violence against people of color are not isolated circumstances perpetrated by singularly racist individuals. These acts are symptoms of a culture that systemically perpetuates violence against communities of color, where violence, according to Dr. King, is “anything that denies human integrity and leads to helplessness or hopelessness” (Brown, 2015). Third, we observed an unfortunate tendency among the members of our local community (especially those who are White) to treat the issue of racist violence as something that happens “over there,” in some other place, construed as being both geographically and culturally removed from our own city and our own university. We could not have known at the time we made these observations that we would be faced with a case of racial violence at our own university, where, like in the Mike Brown case, the criminal justice system failed to indict the officer responsible for a Black man’s death and has struggled to make any meaningful movement toward amends or reform.

Both the belief that racist violence is perpetrated by bad apples and this act of distancing oneself from the issue serve as absolution–a permission to do nothing. In short, we see the silence of White people, including ourselves, as collusion, and feel the need to disrupt this silence by challenging White people to stop doing nothing when such racial violence invariably arises.

To be sure, these observations are not new or unique. They have been made by activists and scholars the world over, many of whom are people of color who have lived experiences of racist violence. For us, the value in making these observations lies not only in their assertion, but in the process of taking these arguments off the page and determining what White staff and faculty members at universities all across the country can do to address this culture of racism. Many career education and professional development faculty and staff working in experiential learning know the value of moving from theory to practice and that the best real world problem solving will not be accomplished without asking the important question, “Now what?” To that end, there are two goals within this article: increase accountability among White faculty and staff through the examination of localized instances of racial violence, and articulate concrete action steps that can be taken in response.