The University of Maryland is under fire after its counseling center listed a group billed as a “safe space for White students.”
“Do you sometimes feel uncomfortable and confused before, during or after interactions with racial and ethnic minorities?” the counseling center’s online description of the group read earlier this week. “This group offers a safe space for White Students to explore their experiences, questions, reactions, and feelings.”
An accompanying flyer invited white students to join the group, dubbed “White Awake.”
The backlash was swift, with many questioning why white students — who make up roughly half of the undergraduate population — needed their own group to discuss diversity. The university subsequently changed the name of the group and its description. It’s now called the Anti-Racism and Ally Building Group.
“Do you want to improve your ability to relate to and connect with people different from yourself? Do you want to become a better ally?” the new online description reads.
The state flagship university’s student newspaper first reported on the group’s existence. One graduate student told The Diamondback he thought the group was unnecessary because "the world is a space for white people to talk in."
"White people have laid down the rules and the groundwork, I feel like, and so they don't need, necessarily, a privatized space," Caleb Finesurrey told The Diamonback. "Whereas a minority group might not feel as comfortable talking in just a normalized place, white people can."
The counseling center published a statement on its website saying it is discontinuing the use of the flyer and changing the group’s name.
“We agree with the feedback that the flyer was not clear enough in conveying the fact that the purpose of this group is to promote anti-racism and becoming a better ally,” the statement reads. “We didn’t choose the right words for the flyer, and we are going to incorporate the feedback we have received into a revision of it. Again, we will discontinue use of the current flyer.”
But they stood by the need for the group.
“The aim of this group is to help White students become more culturally competent, so they can better participate in creating a more inclusive environment at the University of Maryland,” the statement reads. “This group is based on research and best practices, and we believe in it.”
The university has pledged to improve its diversity efforts, following a series of racist incidents on campus in recent years. A noose was hung in a fraternity house’s kitchen. Multiple white nationalist posters were found plastered around campus. Students reported finding swastikas scribbled on university property.
In May 2017, a black Bowie State student, 23-year-old Army 2nd Lt. Richard W. Collins III, was fatally stabbed on the College Park campus. Police have charged a white former University of Maryland student with his death.
Sean Urbanski, 22, could receive a life sentence without the possibility of parole if convicted of the first-degree murder charge, and an additional 20 years if convicted of a hate crime resulting in death.
In a statement, a university spokeswoman said the school acknowledges “that there are members of our community that may have felt harmed” by the counseling group’s name.
“Our Counseling Center embraces multiculturism as one of our key and most important values, as evidenced by its diverse staff, services and programs,” Katie Lawson wrote in an emailed statement. “The purpose of this effort is to promote anti-racism and becoming a better and more informed ally. Our Counseling Center acknowledges that we did not choose the right words in raising awareness about this research-based initiative, and how this group has been perceived is counter to the values of inclusiveness and diversity that we embody. Therefore, we are renaming the group to better reflect our intention and values.”