Story by Haley Zblewski, Currents Editor

Towers Hall RAs and residents as well as other members of the UW-Eau Claire community gathered Wednesday night in the Towers Hall Commons room for a discussion about racism and white privilege.

The event was in response to the racially insensitive signs posted in a women’s bathroom on the Hmong Culture Living Learning Community of Towers Hall North.

Christin DePouw, assistant professor of education studies, and David Shih, associate professor of English, spoke about issues of race and racism in a presentation called Race and Racism: A Discussion.

Shih, who teaches both English classes and classes about race, told the audience of over 70 people that there needs to be a consensus about what racism is in order to have productive conversation about it.

“Racism is system of advantage based on race,” Shih said, “and in our country this system of advantage elevates white people to the top of the hierarchy and has other people of color below white people.”

Shih said that we can understand the racism of the signs posted in Towers Hall by understanding it is a way to give white people power.

One sign said “Problems with this floor: You have meetings for Hmong only. You take ‘Hmong pictures’ at wing events… do you see us whites taking ‘American’ pictures. No!”

“If this poster works, if the author is able to persuade you to agree with those points, those authors dictate how groups would relate to one another on the floor,” Shih said. “Hmong wouldn’t be able to meet together in groups.”

The typical definition, people believe, of racism doesn’t grasp the idea that it exists to give white people power. Shih said it is typically believed, and taught by families, schools and the media that racism is a feeling of hate that is expressed from one person or group to another person or group.

DePouw, who is also faculty advisor for the Hmong Student Association, said another issue where we can see the system of racism in place in our society and in the poster from Towers is in language coding.

“If I say ‘urban student’ you know what I’m implying,” she said. “I’m not overtly naming a race, but implies it. How many of you thought of an African American or a Latino person?  That’s because we’re all in on the code, we’ve all been socialized on these ideas.”

The sign in the Towers bathroom said, “You make your stinky food on our floor… Yuck!”

DePouw said comments about who’s American and who’s not; whose food smells good and whose food doesn’t smell good, are all loaded ways of speaking.

“We all know who’s being referred to, that these stereotypes are attached to certain groups.”