Professor creates reading group on privilege and race

Marina Boyle, Features Editor

A new book club has been established on campus to explore the topics of race and privilege in the educational experience.

The reading group has been organized by Janelle Newman, Ph.D., an English professor and program director of the Teaching English Language Learners certification program.

The idea came to Newman when she saw a gap in how the topic of race is discussed on campus and in general.
“Personally, I found that I wanted more time to really discuss the issues of equity in education beyond classroom and office conversations,” Newman said.

“Even though my class, Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners, has room for that, I found myself and some students wanting more space for discussion. Considering national, local and campus situations, it is obvious that we need more spaces and practice in talking about equity, particularly that of racial inequity in American society and education.”

As the first book, the group has chosen “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys.” The book reading is followed by a discussion on how race is likely to affect someone’s educational experience and how staff and students can improve that.

“Some people don’t like to talk about it because it can be difficult, speaking as a white person,” Newman said. “But you can’t get comfortable talking about something unless you talk about it.”

So far the group is still small with approximately 10 members, although it is growing. It is open to all faculty, staff and students. This past week, the group even had an interested member of the Erie community attend.

As the leader of this group, Newman has many hopes for the book club.
“I would love to see it grow and maybe branch off into various groups reading different books about equity in education, or in society as a whole. Though this isn’t an official club or group on campus, I would love it to be,” Newman said.

“I am not an adviser and do not even consider myself the official leader. I hope this group takes on a life of its own. I’m happy to loosely facilitate it, but I would also be happy to simply attend every week.”

The group meets in the Honors classroom, Hirt M-200, each Thursday at 7 p.m.

The current book, “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys,” was picked because one of the editors, Eddie Moore Jr., spoke on campus last year during diversity week.

Moore is recognized as one of the nation’s top motivational speakers and educators and currently serves as Director of The Privilege Institute and The National White Privilege Conference. Last year, he was brought to campus by Tyler Brentley, Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator.

“I was personally challenged by his message,” Newman said. “After his talk, I asked him about what I could do to encourage more people of color into the teaching profession. He responded that even if we were able to change teacher demographics now, it wouldn’t affect the current students for years to come. He challenged me to use my own white privilege to better educate the white students that I work with.”

Newman said that reading this book is part of a personal journey for her, and she hopes that with her reading group she might find others who are interested in the journey from an academic or personal standpoint.

She also says that the title of this book is misleading because the content can apply to anyone. It focuses on the student experience and the teacher experience, but it also addresses the issue of white privilege and how it drives and dominates our educational culture and society as a whole.

Education majors Lauren Rogus and Nathan Myers are two of the students currently involved in and enjoying this group. They said their favorite aspects are the lively discussions and lots of “aha” moments.

In terms of plans, Newman has a list of books that could be next, but also wants input from what the group wants.

All are welcome at future meetings and can attend at any time, or contact Newman for more details.