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Ed. Magazine

White Men Talking

White Man Talking

Chad Velde, Ed.M.'15, remembers issues like race and gender being talked about a lot in his School Leadership Program (SLP) classes. Program director and lecturer Lee Teitel, Ed.D.'88, designs classes so that students are forced to work through their biases, Velde says.

Still, he noticed that during the many discussions, some of the white men in class didn't talk much.

"On the one hand, it's great for white men to sit back and listen. We've been the beneficiaries of how society has been set up," Velde says. "But it's also important for us to break that down and see what it means."

Velde decided to reach out to the rest of the SLP students and invite those who identify as white men to come to an initial ally meeting to explore their privilege. The meeting would be a safe space where conversations would be confidential. It was an email, he says, that took forever to pull together.

"My five-sentence email took me two hours to write," he says. The response was immediate, and the group met — and continued to meet throughout the year. They talked about what they were learning in class, their biases, and active steps they were taking at their practicum school sites to address racism and sexism. He also learned why some of the men were hesitant to participate in class discussions.

"A lot of it comes from the stereotype threat," he says — people feel they are at risk of confirming negative stereotypes. "In talking openly about race or gender, white men are seen as the bad guys. We are the ones who have kept things down. We think, 'Oh great. I'm going to say the wrong thing.'" For some men, simply having this kind of conversation is also a new experience. For this reason, Velde had the men watch part of the documentary White Like Me, based on the work of educator and author Tim Wise, at one of their last meetings.

"I wanted the guys to see that there are a lot of people doing this work," he says.

As the spring semester was ending, Velde said he hoped the work the ally group had started would continue, in some form, when a new crop of master's students started in the fall. If so, Velde, now located in Chicago, where he took a position with the Uno Charter School Network, says he would love to offer suggestions or act as a coach. He also plans on continuing conversations in Chicago with two of the men in the SLP group who also moved to the Windy City.

Before commencement, Velde learned that several male Ed.L.D. students, including Kevin King, decided to form a similar ally group on campus. King says that, like Velde, he noticed that in class he was often hesitant to join in the conversations. Looking back at his past jobs as a teacher, a principal, and an administrator, he also realized he hadn't been doing enough as an educator to address issues like racism and sexism. He says he always did his work with equity in mind, "but I always wanted to see myself as the good guy in the fight," not as someone who had been a recipient of privilege.

"But if I move into a superintendent role, it's imperative for me to see where I have blind spots," he says. "If I'm not actively working against privilege, racism, and sexism, then I'm not neutral. I'm in the way."

To learn more about the ally groups:

Ed. Magazine

The magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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