A White Man on the REZ: 

“Higher” Education In A Culture of Fear: 
A Journey Through Alienation and Privilege to Healing

(The following is excerpted from a longer 14 page article by Roberto Schiraldi.)

In 2001, I had my first of eight opportunities to spend time on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Though some of the Lakota people were friendly, I felt a sense of discomfort. The people stared at me in the stores, held their gazes as I drove by, and some even ignored me as I wished them a good morning. It was culture shock. And it hit me hard, that I didn’t fit in – – I was a white man on the reservation.

A white man entering onto a Native American reservation parallels many of those entering our campuses, workplaces and communities, particularly in the shared experience of being the “other”. My experience was certainly a wake-up call for me, a powerful reminder of how it feels to not be part of the norm. However, there are clear differences based on historical and contemporary experiences related to being White, Native, and other racial and ethnic minorities.

Given the fast pace of technological change or Future Shock (Toffler, 1975), and the state of the  recessionary economy, poor job market, global warming, terrorism, wars, and other social conditions, many of our students feel overwhelmed and ill-prepared to make choices that often will affect the rest of their lives. They are trying to find their place in a world that often feels harsh and unwelcoming, a world presenting a “culture of fear.”

Our schools, workplaces and communities are reflections of the best and worst of the larger culture. Whereas many elements of our culture welcome diversity, others are elitist or discriminatory, or both. Therefore, while usually subtle and often unintentional, these same elements of elitism and discrimination are also present on in our schools, workplaces and communities.

A Buddhist teaching is that “the greatest privilege is to know oneself.”

In discussing privilege, it is important to emphasize that educating ourselves and others about this topic is not about blaming or finding fault, but rather about helping us to increase our understanding and compassion, and creating an environment that is more fully accepting Why, when many view the term as offensive and divisive, can it still be helpful to use it? The main reason is that the harmful norms and values inherent in the term “privilege,”  are alive and well, that is, elitism, superiority, and competition for power, wealth and control. Until these norms and values are replaced by healthier ones, such as inclusion, cooperation and sharing the
wealth, using this term can help us to keep our focus on creating change, which will serve all.

One place that individuals can receive support for addressing these issues is in counseling .

The following are some strategies for encouraging counselors to begin or continue the process
of engaging in this important work.

1. Be willing to continue uncovering our own biases as we continue to work on enhancing our self-awareness (Johnson,2001), so we can become more comfortable talking about diversity and privilege with peers and clients. For example, keep a white privilege journal of reminders and new learnings about our biases and privilege, as we continue to affirm and acknowledge our efforts.

2. Support others in learning how to deal with feeling different and disconnected, for example through offering support groups that address related issues such as multi-cultural concerns, being male/teaching our young men how to be gentle with themselves and our world (Kivel, 1993), healthy relationships, and managing emotions, with approaches such as dialectical behavior therapy (Marra, 2005), mindfulness meditation (Kabat-Zinn,1990), and learning how to meet basic human needs such as acceptance, connection, empathy, through learning the art of non-violent communication (Rosenberg, 2003). Each of these aforementioned approaches teach specific tools about learning self-respect and emotional
management with ourselves and empathetic connection with others.

The following are some Institutional Strategies for Addressing Cultural Competency, Inequity,
Power and Privilege Issues:

1. Regularly scheduled, highest level cultural competency training for all students, faculty and staff, employees and community members, which addresses how to create an interpersonal environment where individuals who feel different (due to race, gender, class, sexual orientation, disability, international background), feel welcomed, safe, and strongly supported. The training should also include barriers of language and communication with people of color and international individuals and, as well as cultural differences among White students and individuals. Additionally, training for the individuals who feel different, on how to manage, survive and thrive in the dominant culture is essential.

2. To contribute to a school mission statement which emphasizes the primary mission of graduating optimally healthy (mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually) and well-rounded, happy, responsible adults who will serve the world. Consider making “in service of the world” be a primary mission statement/value of education. Require one year service commitment for all students. This service commitment, as well as the on-going cultural competency will help to ensure that students will be successful, leaders in an increasingly lobal marketplace. Perhaps a student, staff, faculty work group could be formed with carrying forth this intention of the one year service commitment as its’ primary goal.

(Additional strategies for individual counselors and for addressing these issues on the institutional level, are provided in the full article. To request a copy please email me at robertoschiraldi@yahoo.com).

When we address inequity, power and privilege we help ourselves and our clients on our healing journeys. May we choose to be kind to ourselves and all our relations.


Johnson, A., (2001). Privilege, Power, and Difference. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe living. New York: Delta Publishing.

Kivel,P. , (1993). Men’s Work , how to stop the violence that tears our lives apart. Minnesota:

Marra, T. (2005). Dialectical Behavior Therapy in Private Practice: A practical and
comprehensive guide. Oakland: New Harbinger Press.

Rosenberg, M.B., (2003). Nonviolent communication: A language of life. California:
PuddleDancer Press.

Toffler,A., (1974). Future shock. New York: Random House.

F. Roberto Schiraldi, EdD,LPC, LCADC