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Professor Objects to Questions About White Privilege

Donna Johnston interviewed with Bridgewater State University to teach social work. She is now suing the university, alleging it did not offer her the position because she is white.

A white professor of social work interviewed Johnston for the open positions. The interviewer asked Johnston about her ability to relate to students of lower socioeconomic status. Johnston responded that her personal experience as a “welfare mother” gave her insight. The interviewer then allegedly asked, “Regarding your whiteness, I mean, I identify as being white like you do, so how aware are you of your whiteness and your white privilege and how Black students may not be able to relate to you because of your white privilege?” Johnston asserts in her lawsuit that this type of questioning was racist. Johnston claims she is better qualified than the three women ultimately hired for the department. Her lawyer asserts that the interviewer could not similarly have asked a Black candidate about their “Blackness” or the impact of their “Blackness.”

The university denies it decided not to hire Johnston based on her race and states it hired two white women for the positions. They say Johnston lacked important expertise and live classroom experience as well as failing to present herself as student-focused. In its position statement to a local agency, Bridgewater State says they intended through their questioning to give Johnston a chance to demonstrate how she would use “her experience and teaching skills to overcome a common obstacle as a social worker and teacher.” Bridgewater State did not comment directly about the lawsuit.