A cross-categorical teacher at Waunakee High School, Chuck Murphree has worked with various demographics throughout his career. However, the educator’s latest efforts have focused on people of his own race.
Murphree began a book study around the topic of white privilege earlier this month.
The high school’s Black Student Union advisor has invited all staff members within Waunakee school district to join him in his weekly discussion of “Me and White Supremacy” by British author Layla Saad.
“The title itself sort of jumps out at you and can make you feel pretty uncomfortable as a white person,” Murphree said. “But I think her intent is to get people to challenge their thoughts about the systems that have been in place, that have benefited white people.”
Targeted toward a white audience, the book has encouraged readers to consider and acknowledge the impacts that white privilege has had throughout the course of their lives.
Discussion prompts have been provided at the end of each chapter.
The book study began last week, with approximately 60 district staff taking part over Zoom. One to participate in the discussion was Agriculture Instructor and FFA advisor Alyssa Engel.
“I wanted to join the book study to understand more so that I can help the students,” Engel said. “A lot of times, students come into my room for a safe space where they feel like they can ask questions. And I want to be knowledgeable and informative for them.”
Engel said the level of engagement in discussions has been impressive.
“With all of the staff members that have been participating across the district,” Engel said, “it’s been really awesome to see how many people just want to understand more and try their best to help students. It’s super enlightening, and super hopeful.”
Murphree said the study is meant to challenge staff members and their beliefs about racism, including the notion that whites could face the same obstacles that people of color do.
He observed that whiteness brings with it an inherent amount of safety.
“I can go out for a run pretty much anytime I want and nobody’s going to look twice at me,” Murphree said. “I can walk into a store and go shopping, and nobody’s going to profile me because of the color of my skin. That’s the difference with white privilege.”
The BSU advisor added that self-awareness is important to understanding what prevents some people from speaking up during instances of racism, such as desensitization to racist language.
He shared an example from his own upbringing, in Alabama.
“I heard the N-word a lot growing up,” Murphree said. “But as I grew, I had to start realizing just how wrong that was. I had to realize that my upbringing was something that affected me, too. And I had to start challenging that from an early age.”
Murphree said he hopes participants make similar self-discoveries.
Weekly book discussions take place Wednesday mornings, throughout the month of July. Hour-long sessions run from 8-9 a.m., and from 9:15-10:15 a.m.