The Transition Network

“Unpacking Whiteness” Workshop
May 2021


What is this “Unpacking Whiteness” Workshop?

The purpose of this workshop is to enable participants to understand and explore white privilege in a non-judgmental environment. White privilege is defined as the benefits that accrue to people solely on the basis of skin color. (It is not a measure of how hard an individual works.)   Participants delve  deeply into the origins of systemic racism and the resultant impacts.  As a result, this program is specifically targeted for people who identify as white.

The workshop now consists of 7 weeks with meetings held weekly for two hours.  Each week explores a different topic.  There are 2-3 hours of preparatory materials weekly delivered through a variety of mixed media including articles, podcasts, and you-tubes.  While that may sound like a great  deal of material, the information is varied and  compelling.  The material is divided into pre-class required and optional material, with length and times provided, to assist the participant in organizing their time.

All participants to date have found the workshop extremely impactful and are frequently astonished by all they did not know.  Members have taken a huge  step in increasing their understanding and awareness of racial justice issues.
 
How did this Workshop originate?

The workshop was originally developed in 2015 by members of a Universal Unitarian church in Massachusetts who were involved in racial justice work.  The group designed the ground rules and agreements that make the workshop effective and unique.  This was a grassroots effort and the workshop  spread through these members to a variety of communities and groups.

One of the members of this group was employed at Tufts University and introduced the workshop there where it has run for a few years. It was through the  Tufts Osher Program that a member of the Boston Chapter of The Transition Network first experienced the workshop.

The events of 2020, culminating with the death of George Floyd, brought the racial tensions in our country to a head, causing many to question what was  happening and why.  The desire to become more involved and educated in racial justice issues became a priority for The Boston Chapter of The Transition  Network.  A decision was made to engage a facilitator from Tufts in a train the trainer model and pilot the workshop within the organization.

The pilot participants found the workshop life changing. It was subsequently adopted, modified and rolled out within Boston.  The workshop materials were updated, a seventh week was developed, in-class videos were added and an effective model was developed for rolling out the workshop across the 14 chapters within the national organization of The Transition Network.  The workshop became a Nationally Sponsored TTN Workshop.  In ten months, 23 workshops including 170 women and 25 facilitators, have been successfully completed.  There have been long waiting lists and the workshop has received continual accolades.

Why is this workshop so different? 

Two reasons.  One is the unique format that promotes deep listening in a non-judgmental way.  Participants quickly build trust and begin sharing their stories and feelings, listening and learning together.  It is NOT a discussion group.  A variety of information, carefully and topically arranged is processed, shared and experienced together week by week.

The second difference is that the focus is on examining the privileges we receive simply because of our skin color.  The workshop is specifically designed for people who identify as white so we can examine these privileges.  Many of us do not feel any privilege.  We know we work hard for what we have.  What we don't immediately realize is how different our lives are and how significantly the systems in our country disadvantage people of color. The workshops are not about blame or guilt but about awareness, educating and deepening our understanding. This awareness is eye opening, painful, and impactful – and yes, life changing.

What is the model utilized?

The extremely effective model developed by The Transition Network includes two facilitators for each workshop; one experienced facilitator, who has lead a workshop previously, paired with a recent graduate of the workshop (typically recommended by a facilitator).     Workshops are made up of 8 members from across chapters, providing a richness in stories shared from the variety of cultural and geographical differences.  Members quickly develop relationships, trust and a sense of community.

A 30 minute orientation session with potential workshop members prior to the workshop start ensures there is an understanding of the unusual workshop structure and the commitment required in time and preparation.  Attendance at all seven sessions is extremely important in building trust and to the total shared experience.  Members essentially make a commitment to each other. 

Facilitators also attend a one-hour training session to learn tips and techniques for running the workshop and are provided with a manual.  The teams of facilitators are brought together every few weeks while the workshops are running to share issues, ask questions and seek advice on how to handle situations.  After the completion of each workshop series, surveys are completed, and the materials and videos are reviewed and updated.  This is often fine tuning to ensure a good complement of tried and true' and current materials. 
 
What does the workshop cost?

The workshop was initially developed and spread as a grassroots effort.  The Boston Chapter Transition Network felt that because the workshop was a gift to them and because the topic was so especially important, there should be no barriers to impede the spread of the experience.  It felt important to respect and honor the intention of the program in growing awareness.  The program has therefore been implemented with no cost to attendees.  All of the time expended in continually improving the program, and in facilitating the seven-week workshop has been volunteered.   The hope is that the program will continue to spread.   
 
How is the Program Organized?

 

The topics follow a sequence of learning and include:
 
1.  Listening:                         The importance of listening respectfully to our stories
 
2.  White Privilege:               What “white privilege” really looks and feels like
 
3.  History:                             The history of systemic racism in the United States
 
4.  Microaggressions:            Understanding the harm caused by micro-aggressions
 
5.  Language/Stereotypes:     Language and stereotypes that create barriers
 
6.  Ally ship:                           How to be an ally in the fight against racism
 
7.  Reparations:                     Current thinking and how to consider options



Written by Ginny Kiefer, Whiteness Workshop Coordinator & Boston Chapter Chair - kieferginny@gmail.com
 

 

 

Material from www.thetransitionnetwork.org, 20:05:34 September 16, 2021.
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