Last year, Clark College saw a departure of a number of staff members of color, including Clark’s only counselor of color. Since then, students, faculty and staff of color have expressed that they continue to feel unsafe and unsupported by the college. Recent events have sparked a campus-wide dialogue about the racial diversity of the Clark community.
However, even before the wave of departures, the staff of color were already at a disadvantage. White people often draw conclusions and form opinions on people of color without even noticing it.
Carlos Castro, a sociology and criminal justice professor at Clark, is aware of how white students tend to perceive him.
“I don’t know if the students are aware [of their privilege],” Castro said. “They notice my last name and they already know that I’m Latino.”
One of the main issues Clark faces when it comes to recruiting diverse staff is the location, as Clark County’s demographics are a majority white, he said.
He added that people of color are not given the same opportunities as white people, which puts them at a disadvantage when applying for jobs.
“We are in one of the whitest areas in the country… and people [of color] are not given the same opportunities,” he said.
U.S. Census estimates of Washington populations from July 2018 show that white people make up 79.5 percent of the state’s population.
Castro also addressed the effect of President Trump on the conversation surrounding institutional racism and white privilege.
“The rhetoric [of the Trump administration] has been more divisive, there has been more polarization in this area and its community,” he said. “There is an issue that some people need to take into account in polarization, that people need to be [and feel] safe when they come to school.”
The Clark community needs to transform this message into one of unity and work to get rid of polarization, he said.
Castro believes that white students are becoming more aware of their privilege, citing daily news coverage and examples of racism in society as the impetus for students’ increased awareness.
Castro has noticed that those who refute ideas of white privilege are typically lower income white students. Typically these students are not aware of their privilege, but once they are given examples of privilege they start to understand, he said.
“Most of my students are young people and they don’t have much experience, so we have to teach them about their privilege,” he said. ”They are aware of racial issues, however.”
In Castro’s classes, students begin to learn about white privilege around the fifth week of class, with continued discussions until the end of the quarter.
During the fall quarter, however, many students were already talking about privilege and racism. In October, Patriot Prayer, a far-right protest group, announced their intent to come to Clark, resulting in college administration canceling classes on the day of the rally.
Students were also more aware of white privilege while voting in midterm elections, Castro said.
“Another comment you hear people say is that we had an African American president, African American singers and that makes us equal now,” he said. “However, when you look at systemic racism; who are the people in power, who has more wealth, who is more likely to be incarcerated, then you realize there is still inequality, and it privileges people who are white.”
Castro believes this illusion of equality is more pervasive now than ever. After Barack Obama’s time in office as the first African American president, many people still use his success as evidence of equality, he said.
However, students are starting to see the falsehoods of this narrative and notice their own privilege. This, in turn, influences their votes, Castro said.
Ultimately, Castro believes education to be the key to change.
Castro hopes that people will start to find more solutions to problems like privilege through education and realize the racist history that comes along with most of the public policy that we have inherited as a society, he said.