Debriefing Debby Irving

debbyBefore Signature Assessments took center stage, there was Debby Irving. The racial justice educator and author of Waking Up White spoke before several hundred students– many of whom were required by their teachers to attend– at the November 29th Skeptics. Reactions were strong and mixed. To get a better sense of the range of opinions, The Oracle sent an open-ended survey to the student body. What follows is based on the 24 responses we received, which mirrored many of the conversations heard across campus in the days following her talk.  

Some students found her perspective refreshing. “I liked how she discussed [the issue of race] from the perspective of a white person,” one student commented. “The message did stay with me,” another student noted, “due to the fact that some of the things she said had never occurred to me in the past.”

Though some felt that “spreading awareness … [is] the first step,” some audience members disliked the speech because they felt that Irving did not properly address how Americans can help to fix the issues. “I found,” one student responded, that she elucidated issues of racism “but did not [provide solutions for] how to fix them [beyond trying to] ‘educate’.”

Another student took a more negative stance:

She seemed to think she was opening our eyes and showing us the light, but all she provided was a history lesson. Living in an upper class white neighborhood, she did not offer anything that a history book or internet source could not have told us.

“I felt that I was being shamed for being white by this white lady who did not show one picture [or] use evidence within 50 years from where we are now,” one student remarked. “She made it sound like all of us were the problem.” This student also stated he or she felt that Irving assumed everybody in the audience was as ignorant as she had been before her epiphany.

One responder wrote, “I did NOT feel it was necessary to be forced … to feel bad for things that happened 3 lifetimes ago (for my age).” Some left feeling that she had exaggerated or was hypocritical. Though some may disagree with her message or delivery, the history she referenced is verifiable.

Various respondents thought Irving’s public speaking ability was subpar. Some found her ideas confusing, or felt she failed to address the issue of current-day racism, spending too much time talking about her own past experience.

Many students felt that her ideas were irrelevant to their own races. One echoed the sentiments of others, noting  that “the message was directed towards a white audience” so “they didn’t identify with much of what she spoke about.”

Some would prefer hearing from someone perhaps from within our own community. Rather than a lecture, others suggested discussions or a panel of people with different views or of different races so we could “formulate our [own] opinions.” Another noted they would listen to anybody, but were not moved by this particular speaker. Several other responders said they would prefer to listen to someone who “had personally experienced … injustice” or “witnessed, if not experienced, different types of racism.” One student wrote that they would listen to anyone, “Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, [or] Native American,” because “everyone has a story with its own reality.”

(Copyright Oracle Editorial Board)


The Oracle Staff