ASU alumna leads series on white privilege at Phoenix Church

Allyson Yoder is co-facilitating a six-week series on the controversial topic of white privilege

ASU dance alumna Allyson Yoder co-facilitated an event titled “White Privilege: Let’s Talk” at First United Church of Christ in Phoenix on Thursday, the first installment of a six-week series on the topic. 

The church is liberal and politically active — Senior Pastor James Pennington has spent much of his life working with the LGBTQ community. In the past, the church has held other politically minded workshops discussing nonviolent protest and the intersections of race and religion, and church members participated in protests at President Donald Trump's August rally in Phoenix.

The Facebook page for the event, which was designed by the national United Church of Christ, said white privilege is “a byproduct of the complicity of all whites, even the allies who struggle to free themselves from a legacy of racial hate and white supremacy, and who remain the beneficiaries of privilege afforded them because they are white."

Yoder was introduced to some of the topics surrounding white privilege in her classes at ASU. She cited classes she took about the intersection of theater and social activism taught by professor Mary Stephens, as some of her very first introductions to the controversial topic. She said those classes and their participatory style introduced her to the “web of privilege and power” that we live in today.

Yoder said the “Privilege Walk Exercise," where people take steps forward or backwards depending on personal privilege, always placed her on one extreme of the privilege spectrum because she was “privileged in every way."  

“My own journey at looking at my own whiteness and my white privilege I would say started in college — I had some really impactful professors in college,” Yoder said to the crowd. “I remember how uncomfortable that experience was for me and how vulnerable that often felt for me.”

Yoder credited “unpacking” her own whiteness with improving the relationships she had with people of color in her life. She said the process of reviewing her own white privilege was an important aspect of preparing herself for other social justice and activism work. 

ASU journalism alumnus Ronald Mac, who is African American, said he thought the event was fabulous.

“Without this dialogue ... nothing is going to happen," Mac said. “If we can get more people to these events, and more people that maybe don’t even understand what exactly these events can do to bring progress to this nation, to this world, then the sky's the limit.”

Yoder said the event was important for "liberal white folks” like herself, because it encouraged them to discuss their own white privilege. She said the election of Donald Trump was a wake-up call to do her part as a white person to talk with other white people about privilege and systematic racism in the US. 

Former Grand Canyon University professor Shawn Bawulski, who said he was terminated from GCU for his affiliation with Black Lives Matter, agreed that the message was important for white people so that they could lead the conversation with others less informed on the topic.

“Events like this are important because the folks who are going to come here voluntarily are going to be equipped and informed, and then are going to be put in a position where they can go out and really bring change with other white folks in their lives,” Bawulski said. “(White people) will often be put in positions where people of color wouldn’t ... have a voice that is heard properly by other white folk.”

Yoder said she hopes the series reaches white progressive liberal people who are interested in getting in politically involved but don't understand power dynamics there of white privilege. 

"I don't think this series is going to convince or reach any white nationalist, but I think there's a lot of work that white liberals need to do to kind of understand and impact whiteness and power dynamics," Yonder said.

Reach the reporter at and follow @brookehanrahan1 on Twitter. 

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