Wisconsin’s VISTA Program Encourages Volunteers to Overcome White 'Privilege’

By Patrick Burke | March 13, 2013 | 9:55am EDT

An AmeriCorps volunteer works with students. (AP Fiile Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) wants its white VISTA volunteers who work with low-income, racially diverse public schools to examine the “privilege” their Caucasian race confers on them.

DPI devotes an entire Web page to “Power and Privilege,” including links to racial justice workshops and online tests where VISTA volunteers can “learn about your personal bias.”

One “diversity” document linked to DPI’s Web site suggests that white people “wear a white wristband as a reminder about your privilege, and as a personal commitment to explain why you wear the wristband.”

The document -- written by a diversity resource center in New Jersey -- also suggests that white people ask themselves questions, such as: “How do I ignore privilege? What am I doing today to undo my privilege? How do I fool myself into thinking I am powerless?”

Other suggestions for white people include:

-- Set aside sections of the day to critically examine how privilege is working.
-- Put a note on your mirror or computer screen as a reminder to think about privilege.
-- Make a daily list of the ways privilege played out, and steps taken or not taken to address privilege.
-- Find a person of color who is willing to hold you accountable for addressing privilege.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is the state agency that advances public education and libraries in Wisconsin.

DPI notes that its AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers are serving in schools that are culturally and racially diverse, and therefore DPI provide “multiple opportunities for training…that help the volunteers better serve the schools and communities in which they are placed.”

(The document mentioned above is just “one strand of information” provided for Wisconsin VISTA volunteers.)

“Not only should you examine the kind of privilege you bring to your (work) site but also how power is distributed among the families, community members, and students you work with,” the DPI Web site says. “The VISTA project encourages VISTAs to think about power and privilege in the context of race, gender, socio-economic status, to name only a few.”

At the top of the DPI’s “Power and Privilege” Web page is a quotation from feminist Gloria Steinem that reads: “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.”

AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) is the national service program designed specifically to fight poverty.

VISTA members commit to serve full-time for a year at a nonprofit organization or local government agency, working to fight illiteracy, improve health services, create businesses, and strengthen community groups.

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