Janesville students attending white privilege conference Wednesday
JANESVILLE— Neil Deupree, former pastor and officer on the Diversity Action Team of Rock County, believes this week's White Privilege Conference in Madison will go a long way to teach middle and high school students the importance of diversity and anti-racism.
"The point of the conference is to remind people our society is built on an invisible knapsack of white privilege, meaning that we carry perks we don't know about because we can't see them," Deupree said
Shopping at a department store without being watched by clerks or going to a barbershop and knowing the barber will know how to cut your hair are just two examples of little things that add up, Deupree said.
"The conference keeps that in front of people," Deupree said. "These are things many people may not even realize."
The event has drawn criticism from some as being biased and an improper use of taxpayer dollars.
A Fox News report says "Wisconsin taxpayers could be forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars to help fund" the conference.
Deupree said issues of race are not behind us.
"I personally believe when we have a conference we are saying, 'No, it's not over.' Our society still has many aspects that are built-in to put white people on top. Some people would rather believe that's not the case," he said.
About 2,400 people are expected to attend the conference, Deupree said.
Yolanda Cargile, director of at-risk and multicultural programs for the Janesville School District, said 92 students and 12 staff will attend the conference, which runs from Wednesday through Saturday. Janesville middle and high school students will be attending Wednesday's session.
"It aligns with board goals," Cargile said. "It provides multiple opportunities for growth for both students and staff."
The trip will be funded by a Safe and Supportive Schools grant and not local dollars, Cargile said. The conference aligns with the district's plan to reduce the achievement gap between whites and minorities, Cargile said.
The first White Privilege Conference was held 15 years ago in Iowa. It was created by Eddie Moore Jr. with the goal of examining “challenging concepts of privilege and oppression” and offering “solutions and team building strategies to work toward a more equitable world,” according to the event's website.
It is "not a conference designed to attack, degrade or beat up on white folks" and is "not a conference designed to rally white supremacist groups", according to the website.
Deupree hopes the conference encourages people to get involved in ending discrimination and making society more open at a local level.
"People are afraid this is brainwashing students, but this is another way of giving them a look at the society they live in," Deupree said. "It teaches students to look at many different points of view."
According to Janesville School District's 2012-13 report card from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 76 percent of white students show some mastery of reading skills. The number drops to 71 percent for Hispanic students and 68 percent for African-Americans district-wide. In math, 91 percent of white students show some mastery, 89 percent of Hispanics and 80 percent of African-Americans.
Cargile said the conference provides students and staff with the opportunity to learn about diversity, and she's hopeful they will come back and share what they learned.
"It provides leadership opportunities for students," Cargile said. "It provides multiple opportunities for growth. I hope they take home to family and friends what they've learned."
"With it being so close this year, we couldn't pass on it," Cargile said.