Town- And Campus-Wide Reading Project Seeks To Advance Conversations About Race and Privilege

February 1, 2016
An image of Wellesley Town Center

At Wellesley College, we learn from one another—to promote collaboration, create understanding, build community, and support the advancement of social justice and equity on campus and beyond. As Black History month begins, and throughout the spring semester, the community is invited to join Wellesley Community Read, a Town-wide conversation about race and racial justice.

Initiated by World of Wellesley (WOW), a non-profit volunteer organization "dedicated to making the Town of Wellesley a welcoming community where diversity is celebrated," and supported by Wellesley College’s Partnerships for Diversity and Inclusion, groups throughout town are reading "Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race," an autobiography and memoir by educator and writer Debby Irving. Groups are encouraged to read the book collectively and meet at least once to discuss it.

"Our goal is to have 1,000 people from the town of Wellesley read the book and join in a discussion issues of race, privilege, and inclusion over the course of the spring and summer—and for our campus community to join in," said Robbin Chapman, Associate Provost and Academic Director of Diversity & Inclusion, and Lecturer of Education.

The book is about the author's struggle to understand racism and racial tensions. Irving has said she found that her own beliefs about color blindness, being a good person, and wanting to help people of color actually perpetuated her ill-conceived ideas about race. In the book she explains why and how her understanding of race, racism and the racial justice movement have changed, and offers a perspective on bias, stereotypes, manners and tolerance. One conversation with the author will take place this Thursday night, February 4, at 7pm at Wellesley High School.

Wellesley's Partnerships for Diversity and Inclusion is a campus-wide initiative that provides strategic leadership for Wellesley in areas of diversity, inclusion, and equity through partnerships and community engagement. The Initiative's work advances the College's mission by strengthening and sustaining a campus culture that reflects different ways of thinking, living, working, and learning, and cultivates the capacity for Wellesley College citizens to build a strong and vibrant educational community.

WOW sponsors events, programs, and projects that are held in conjunction with many Wellesley institutions, including the College, which emphasize the value in exploring different cultures, religions and ways of life. Both WOW and the Partnerships are exploring "privilege" as a theme this year.

"We feel that this reading activity—trying to get enough people reading from same text, having discussions, and attending talks—will be helpful in establishing a common vocabulary and a commonality around which people can explore one another," Chapman said. This is the first time the group has undertaken such a reading project.

The Partnerships and WOW have teamed up for other events. For the second consecutive year, the College hosted WOW’s 16th Annual MLK Day Community Breakfast Celebration last month. The College also hosts a now annual WOW Summit on Diversity each fall. Chapman said that these efforts seem to have started to have some impact that she hopes will continue. She said she hopes that projects like these will soon become part of the Wellesley tradition, "something that the college and town always do." She added, "We should be lifelong learners when it comes to this kind of effort—when it comes to equity and justice we need to be continually growing."

Please keep an eye out for posters that will placed throughout campus this month, or email, for more information about the reading project.