On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, an assembly at Oconomowoc High School in Wisconsin featured a discussion on the concept of white privilege. The story was picked up by a local conservative radio host, and the school was inundated with complaints. Board members have now instructed the school’s Superintendent that discussions of white privilege will no longer be allowed.
Oconomowoc’s student population is 90 percent white and, as reported last week by Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel, teachers have now been given instruction to contain conversations about white privilege to “classrooms where it is related to a specific course and teachers can provide appropriate context.”
“Schools are a microcosm of their communities. And we had parents in our community who felt like the concept of privilege went a little far, particularly for some of our younger students,” Superintendent Roger Rindo explained. “It doesn’t mean we can’t teach children about diversity with the other 900 ways we can approach it.”
Just so long as it doesn’t make white people uncomfortable.
In February, the school’s Principal Joseph Moylan resigned, with rumors circulating that it was in part due to his decision to allow the assembly exercise. The exercise was composed of student break-out groups filling out a National Civil Rights Museum-created exam called a “privilege aptitude test” that features basic questions about how you feel you’re perceived in the world based on your race.
School board president Donald Wiemer refused to discuss Moylan’s departure, but defended the outrage expressed by parents:
“Our board is fine with discussions about diversity ... but white privilege is a lightning rod for some parents,” said Wiemer, the board president who also serves as village manager and chief of police for the Village of Oconomowoc Lake, a small, affluent enclave on the southeast side of the district.
“We have poor people in Oconomowoc who are saying they’re not privileged ... and people that say, ‘Don, we worked our butts off to have what we have,’” Wiemer said.
Not everyone is offended by the idea of discussing white privilege; some parents have launched a petition for keeping diversity education in the school and protesting the change in school leadership. As of publication, they have over 1,500 signatures.
And for what it’s worth, the students themselves seemed moved in a more positive direction by the assembly—one student club suggested organizing a “privilege walk” as a way to bring attention to the issue. The idea was ended by Rindo, who stated in an email that students needed to be “prudent and mindful of the context in which we live and work.”