The University of Colorado’s Colorado Springs campus has decided it won’t be involved in the White Privilege Conference anymore. Since 2007 the campus’s Matrix Center for Social Equity and Inclusion, directed by UCCS sociology professor Abby Ferber, had lent the controversial conference some academic sheen, including the fact that UCCS students could get academic credits for attending the conference as part of a UCCS course. Although the annual conference is headed by its 1999 founder, Eddie Moore Jr., diversity counselor at the Brooklyn Friends School, the Matrix Center had been its official home and Ferber one of its key organizers.
According to UCCS spokesman Tom Hutton, the university began pulling out of the conference in the spring of 2013. “The relationship with the conference ended as a result of confusion about its name and the negative attention generated by it. University leadership, in concert with the conference organizers, determined the distraction caused by the conference was not beneficial to our student body,” Hutton told me in an email.
I like to think that my cover story for the May 27, 2013, issue of The Weekly Standard, “Beyond the Pale,” was a key part of the “negative attention” that the White Privilege Conference had received. I had attended that year’s White Privilege Conference near Seattle, and it had struck me as a three-day festival of white self-loathing coupled with finger-pointing at white people for their supposedly “unearned” wealth and social status afforded them simply by reason of their skin color. The same went for males, heterosexuals and Christians—which necessitated the four solid days of white-bashing, male-bashing, heterosexual-bashing, and Christian-bashing that made up the conference agenda. The bashing was supposed to be good, not just for guilty whites but for members of minority groups whose private paranoias about the way they thought white people secretly felt about them found expression in the conference’s offerings. Workshops bore such titles as “Talking Back to White Entitlement,” “Follow the White Supremacist Money,” and “Engaging White People in the Fight for Racial & Economic Justice”). Here is a sample offering, as described in my 2013 article:
Terrance Nelson, aka Mush-ko-dah-be-shik-eese (“Little Buffalo”), a diminutive bronze Anishanabe Indian from Manitoba wearing tinted eyeglasses and an Indian-blanket-themed vest, berated the European settlers of North America in a keynote speech for a variety of crimes ranging from “genocide” via smallpox to burning Mayan books during the 16th century to systematically stealing Indian (“First Nations,” in Canadian-ese) land and national resources. Nelson is known in Canada for his threatened rail blockade in 2007 that resulted in a terrified government’s transfer of 75 acres to the Anishanabe for an “urban reserve” (aka tax-exempt gas station complex) in Winnipeg—and also for his participation in several other rail blockades in early 2013; his having been ousted as chief of the Roseau River Band of the Anishanabe in 2011 amid allegations of financial mismanagement; and a controversial trip to Iran in 2012 during which he declared in an Iranian government-sponsored television interview that Canada’s Indian reserves were “concentration camps.” The White Privilege attendees seemed neither to know nor to care about Nelson’s history—because he was, after all, a genuine Indian telling white people all the things about their oppression of Indians that they wanted to hear.
Still it would be grandiose to claim sole credit for UCCS’s White Privilege pullout. Hutton told me that the university had “utilized many inputs” in making its decision.
Some of the inputs, according to a source, were trustees of the University of Colorado who weren’t happy about the therapeutic paleskin-beating that seemed to be the conferences’ main agenda. More input came from Colorado Republican State Sen. Kent Lambert, who spent some time with UCCS’s chancellor, Pam Shockley-Zalabak, discussing the campus’s severing of its White Privilege relationship.
That severing process proceeded both slowly and semi-secretively, according to an email written by Lambert that I obtained. The Matrix Center’s name continued to appear online in connection with the conference at least through early 2014, and the White Privilege Conference’s website continued to contain links to UCCS for weeks after the pullout, although the Conference, which is now organized as a freestanding nonprofit, ultimately took down the links at UCCS’s request. And at least for this year, UCCS students were able to receive academic credit for attending the conference, held in March in Madison, Wisconsin. According to Hutton, about ten of them did so. Ferber wrote in an e-mail to me she “will continue to be involved in . . . the national planning team for the WPC.”
And there was one major difference between this year’s White Privilege Conference and last year’s: No press allowed, or at least no conservative press. Adam Tobias, a writer for the Wisconsin Reporter who had written a story indicating that the taxpayers of Madison, Wisconsin, would be picking up part of the tab for the fifteenth conference, was told by a conference spokesman that the proceedings were “private” and was denied admittance.