"White Privilege Seminar" sparks some controversy on ND campus

NOTRE DAME, Ind. --- A Notre Dame course is fanning controversy among some students selecting spring courses. "White Privilege Seminar: An Introduction to the Intersections of Privilege" begins in January.

"One of my friends showed me this, when he looked up his classes, and said, 'mark, look at this!'" said Mark Gianfalla, president of the Notre Dame College Republicans organization.

He appeared on "The O'Reilly Factor" Thursday night.

Freshman Mara Makasiar thinks the course name conjures a negative connotation.

"I think people need to be clarified about the class before they start making assumptions," she said.

Gabrielle Dohmen, sophomore, believes the seminar would benefit if named otherwise. She says some of her friends fear the course title paints white students as racists.

"It has inspired a lot of backlash,"said Dohmen.

The seminar is cross-listed in the Departments of Sociology and Africana Studies. The backlash has taken Professor Rory McVeigh by surprise.

"It's clearly not a course designed to point fingers and blame people or to accuse people of being racist," said McVeigh, Chair of the Department of Sociology. "it's specially designed for students who really want to take a close look at racism and what other inequalities looks like in the modern era -- what are some of the ways other groups might experience privilege, even without their own intent or their own awareness of it."

McVeigh adds the course arrives at a critical time, amid "policing situations" after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Makasiar was ambivalent.

"The timing of this could either be bad or good--bad in the sense because everyone's opinions are really flaring up right now."

The university offered the six-week seminar last year. However, 2015 marks the first time it will count for credit. Students must apply to take the class, which holds ten students.

According to the course description, the goal is to learn about the definitions, causes, and effects of white privilege. During spring break, students travel to Louisville, Ky. For the White Privilege Conference.

In his Fox News appearance, Gianfalla stated the university will fund the Kentucky trip. Bill O'Reilly questioned if Notre Dame would dip into student activity fees.

"I'm not sure how that works," said Rory McVeigh. "we have lots of centers and institutes that have funds and often times those funds take people to academic conferences if they are available."

Senior Stephen Perry hopes the course opens students' eyes.

"Given the nature of this university being populated by white students of affluent families, it's easier for individuals from that kind of background to not really recognize there is such a thing as white privilege," Perry said.

One sophomore we spoke with believes classmates can take away key lessons from White Privilege Seminar.

"I think it might be beneficial because it's important--as I said--to study all the parts of society and see if society is doing something wrong," he explained. "Then, it needs to be studied and can be changed for the future. I think maybe this class will be able to offer that."

Notre Dame officials declined to make the seminar instructors available for comment.