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Racism. Sexism. January seminar sure to provoke discussion

December 3, 2001

Inequality. Oppression. We don't typically associate them with America or, heaven forbid, institutions of higher learning. But the unfortunate fact is that even those of us who consider ourselves incapable of racism or sexism fail to acknowledge the system of privilege that enabled us to get where we are.

Austin Peay, like other universities, falls short of being a perfect example of egalitarianism in action. In fact, accusations of racial and gender inequality led to formal complaints against some academic departments in recent years. Beyond the legal issues, harassment, avoidance, exclusion and rejection cause great emotional pain to victims.

And "I'm one of the good guys" isn't an acceptable excuse for inaction, says Dr. Allan Johnson. "The problem often lies in our system of privilege," he adds, and before we can do anything about it, we have to see how those systems work, where we fit in them and how we can dismantle them.

Johnson, a sociologist, writer and public speaker who has studied issues of inequality since 1972, will discuss "Building Community: Unraveling the Knot of Privilege, Power, and Difference" at four seminars to be held at the University in January.

Johnson was invited to speak by Dr. Bruce Speck, vice president for academic affairs, who said, "What we all want is to discuss how we can work more effectively to respond to each other humanly, even when we have different responsibilities and come from different backgrounds."

Attendance at the one of the seminars is mandatory for faculty, and staff is encouraged to attend as well. Times and locations are: Monday, Jan. 14, 4-6 p.m. MMC, Room 147; Tuesday, Jan. 15 8:30-10:30 a.m. MMC, Room 147;
Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2-4 p.m. MMC, Concert Hall; and Wednesday, Jan. 16 9-11 a.m. MMC, Concert Hall.

Johnson's books have been praised by North Carolina State University faculty member Dr. Michael Schwalbe for their value in helping readers think critically about inequality and oppression without getting mired in guilt and despair. "He gently but firmly removes the blinders that keep us from seeing our own privileges and how those privileges harm others. Then he shows us how to turn our beliefs in justice and equality into practice."

Dr. Johnson teaches at Hartford College for Women of the University of Hartford and works as a consultant. He will be paid with proceeds from Geier funds.