On October 1 and 2 the Social Issues Resource Center will be hosting a workshop on undoing institutional racism. The workshop will feature two trainers from the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond.

This workshop is the first of its kind at Western. While there have been several smaller, one-day events, this is the first two-day event that the SIRC has brought to campus. The goal of the workshop is not to simply acknowledge racism and stereotypes, but to work to undo racism as an institution within our society in general.

Although institutional racism is a popular topic in the media lately, in regards to the Hurricane Katrina debacle, its existence has a long history in our country. So does its resistance, pointed out David Cahn, a co-coordinator in the SIRC, adding that people have been resisting institutional racism in the Americas since 1492.

The history of institutional racism and its resistance are only two of the many topics that the workshop will be dealing with. Other subjects covered include the poverty and class, and how racism traps the poor.

Many of these topics may not apply to the daily life of the average Western student, which begs the question of why they should concern themselves with it. Cahn reiterated this problem by explaining, “Racism is basically about benefiting white people.”

Another way to look at this is by examining the concept of hegemony. Hegemony is the continued dominance of one group over other groups. Minority cultures under hegemony have their value systems slowly skewed towards favoring the dominant culture. White Americans are the dominating group in Cahn’s
example.

Combating this ignorance towards institutional racism is the driving force behind the SIRC and the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond’s mission. It is this drive that inspires the desire to look into the “big picture” of racism. According to Cahn, this desire is what sets the SIRC workshop apart from other workshops involving racism, which deal mainly with examining current stereotypes and racist tendencies and attempting to curb those tendencies by pointing out what not to do or think.

Bringing expertise and experience to SIRC’s workshop will be trainers with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, one of whom will be coming from New Orleans, the organization’s home city and a current, and historical, hotbed of institutionalized racism. Not only are these trainers experts in the field of institutionalized racism, they are also active organizers working with issues within their community to help undo racism.

When a scene in the movie “Dead Man Walking” was filmed in a neighborhood populated mostly by minorities, community organizers working with the People’s Institute were in a position that enabled them to deny the right to film in the neighborhood unless the production company hired people from that neighborhood.

Cahn, and everyone else from the SIRC and the People’s Institute, want Western students and other community members to be able to recognize and respond to similar situations, but above all, they want to reach as many people as they can with their mission of undoing racism.

“Until society changes,” Cahn explained, “we won’t have genuine relationships.”

The workshop is free and runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekend of October 1 and 2. It is open to both Western students and community members.

To register, you can email the SIRC, or fill out the form that can be found outside their offices at VU 512. For other questions, or to register, please email as.rop.social.issues@wwu.edu.