TWTP largely unchanged despite presence of white students

Thursday, August 31, 2006

This year 229 incoming first-years took part in the Third World Transition Program, a four-day orientation program geared toward students of color. Since white students were first allowed to attend TWTP four years ago, about six have opted to participate, said Karen McLaurin, the program’s director and associate dean of the College.

Three white students attended the program this year. One white member of the class of 2008 participated, and at least one student from the class of 2009 registered but may not have attended the event, McLaurin said.

Though the policy of admitting white students marks a departure from TWTP’s original role as a program solely for students of color, Giselle Castaño ’07, one of the program’s coordinators, said so far the program’s content has not changed.

An annual event since 1969, the program has traditionally helped incoming students of color adjust to the Brown community. TWTP seeks to explore “systems of oppression,” including “racism, classism, sexism, homophobia, and heterosexism,” and, as of last year, imperialism, according to the Third World Center’s Web site.

In a letter sent to incoming students of color and their families, coordinators Castaño and Marissa Molinar ’07 wrote, “TWTP has evolved to meet the changing needs of the community, but continues to uphold the values of self-reflection, open dialogue and acceptance.”

“We try to approach all these issues from a grounded perspective and I don’t think that perspective is exclusionary,” Castaño told The Herald. “I think it can be an incredibly enriching experience for white students, but I wouldn’t say it changes the way I plan stuff.”

Still, Castaño acknowledged the program is “in a time of transition into that new policy.”

A 2003 administrative decision officially opened the program to non-minority students, but the change was not publicized until 2004 when all incoming first-years received information about TWTP in a summer mailing from the University.

White students were invited less than one year after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a case regarding the University of Michigan’s affirmative action admission policies, ruled students could not be evaluated as members of a racial or ethnic group in college admissions. But McLaurin said President Ruth Simmons, not legal concerns, drove the policy change.

“I wouldn’t want to give the University of Michigan all that credit,” McLaurin said. “President Simmons didn’t want any programs that just invited students of color – it was a question of exclusion.”

Though McLaurin said all students receive an invitation over the summer, some students who chose to attend TWTP said it was not entirely clear the program is open to all incoming first-years.

“It never said anyone was excluded,” said participant Frankie Martinez ’10 of the TWTP materials he received, but Liz Dang ’10 said “it was not obvious that it was open to everyone.”

Students of color are notified in a second mailing – which was written in both Spanish and English for the first time this year – and some said they received phone calls at home encouraging them to register.

C.J. Hunt ’07, one of the MPC Friends who led sessions during this year’s program, agreed including white students has had little impact on the event’s structure and content. As he planned a workshop on racism, he said he realized changes would not be necessary. “It’s not just people of color who have a racial identity to think about,” Hunt said. “The way you interact with the world as a person is also structured by a racial identity you carry.”

Hunt likened the recent inclusion of white students in TWTP to men’s participation in Female Sexuality Workshop (or “FemSex”) – both programs were created to create “safe spaces” for specific communities but are now open to all interested Brown students.

Bradley Toney ’10 said he enjoyed the focus groups and discussions. “The focus on personal opinions and diversity was superb,” Toney said. “Being from Alabama, I’m excited to meet people from all over the country and all over the globe.”

His roommate Rashid Hussain ’10 offered similar praise. “It was so interesting to see the contrast among different ends of our society, and it’s really wonderful to see how we’re all able to come together at Brown,” he said.

Liz Morgan ’10 said her experiences at TWTP will extend beyond the TWC community. “Part of what we’ve learned is to bring this part of what you’re learning to the greater community,” she said.

Some first-years were more reticent. “I found some parts of TWTP to be okay and some parts to be a little too out there,” said John Lung ’10.

Despite many participants’ positive reaction to the program, TWTP has at times been a point of controversy among members of the Brown community who question its relevance. McLaurin attributes the scrutiny to white students’ previous exclusion from the event. Castaño and Hunt said TWTP’s race-oriented components can provoke criticism.

Castaño said TWTP is comparable to orientation programs for first-year athletes and international students but elicits a stronger reaction from non-participants.

“It doesn’t matter how good the program is or how on point or inclusive or wonderful it is,” Hunt said. “We are still fundamentally battling to show people that race matters and that it’s played out here at Brown.”