On Tuesday night, Gonzaga’s Unity Multicultural Education Center (UMEC) hosted a panel surrounding the topic of white male allyship, an issue not typically highlighted in diversity narratives.
The four featured panelists included Assistant Communications professor Jeremy Gordon, Director of the Comprehensive Leadership Program Josh Armstrong, Interim Director of the Center for Cura Personalis Sean Joy and Gonzaga Student Body Association President Braden Bell.
Throughout the event, the speakers answered questions and reflected on their experiences as white men on a predominantly white campus learning about how to be an ally.
Bell, a junior studying biology, said the panel presented him with an opportunity to learn from the other panelists and reflect on ways in which he has been an ally as well as shortcomings in the process.
“As Gonzaga is a predominantly white institution, I think it’s important to recognize the white privilege that is associated, especially since [GU] is in a higher economic status within the community that surrounds us,” Bell said. “I think it’s always important to call that into question and reflect deeply on our privilege as white men and how that can be used for good or how it can be used for harm.”
During the first hour, UMEC Programming Intern and senior Jonas Hyllseth, who organized and moderated the event, asked the panelists a series of questions such as how they leverage their privilege as white men and how to normalize conversations about race and allyship within their circles.
Tyler Thomas, a junior biology major, said he was initially drawn to the event because his professor was a part of the panel and left with new insights on the importance of showing up to events like these as a white male.
“After coming I realized that there were some other more meaningful reasons that I should have come and I’m glad I came for those reasons now,” Thomas said.
The panelists acknowledged the fact that the audience was primarily made up of people who were not white men.
“I think, like they said in the panel, it was very shocking [to see] the demographic at a presentation that was meant for a certain audience of white males, that there were less than 50% white males, maybe even less than that,” Thomas said. “I think that was the most shocking thing, and I think finding ways to reach more people of that demographic in meaningful ways is important.”
Bell spoke about identifying where the white male population on campus is spending their time and resources, whether that be in Kennel Club or GU Outdoors, and meeting them there to introduce them to topics of diversity and allyship.
After the first hour, audience members had the chance to participate in a Q&A session by either asking panelists questions directly or scanning a QR code on their table to submit questions for Hyllseth to ask.
Questions covered topics such as accountability, the obstacle of white guilt, strategies for effectively educating people and mistakes or sacrifices the panelists have made throughout their allyship journey.
Joy talked about the importance of learning from your mistakes and not letting them scare you away from working toward allyship. He emphasized the importance of leaning into discomfort and that change does not happen without having those difficult conversations on the individual and personal level.
He also said that being an ally is something you learn, not something you become. One of the areas of learning he and the other panelists talked about was the balance of speaking out but not speaking over the communities you are serving.
Hyllseth said the inspiration for the event came after discussing potential program ideas with his supervisor last semester and landing on the idea of addressing the disproportionate support for Diversity, Inclusion, Community & Equity (DICE) events among the white GU population.
“We talked about how we wanted to bring in more conversations that centered around white allies and the white population on campus because it’s our biggest population, but for DICE and UMEC events, those populations don’t really show out, so we figured this was one way to take that first step into opening the doors to those communities,” Hyllseth said.