Posted March 1, 2016 by Tori Amason 

The White Ally Pt. III: Changing the Lens

Many of us are familiar with the term “historically black colleges and universities (HBCU),” and hopefully we know the history of their creation as well. HBCUs were established to serve black students and the black community before predominantly white institutions (PWI) were concerned with access for all people. Today, both types of institutions are serving all students, though HBCUs have always done so.

As we think about our universities today and the values of our profession, diversity and inclusion is certainly prominent, but let’s change the lens for a minute and take a closer look. When I think of the term “historically black colleges and universities,” I think of institutions that were created to serve students and communities differently than their counterparts. I think of the intentionality that went into policies, procedures, and systems to support and uplift all students. When I think of the term “predominantly white institutions,” I think of the current state of the campus. I think of the student population in numbers and know that the campus is majority white. I rarely think of the historical context of the institution; and admittedly, I didn’t begin to think beyond that until recently when I was having a conversation about the racial climate on our campus with a colleague. He introduced me to a term that changed my whole frame: “historically white institutions.” In an instant, I began to look at my work differently.

Now, I’m not quite sure who coined “predominantly white institution” and why they chose that instead of “historically white institution,” but changing the term changes the conversation. “Historically white institution” denotes the inception and intention of these colleges and universities to advance white people. Systems, policies, and procedures were put in place to allow those students to succeed.

If we begin to think about our institutions in this context, it allows us to take a critical look at what we do. It allows us to evolve. It’s deeper than just access; it’s building an environment that reinforces our values. If our white students can leave college with the same biases that they entered with, we are not doing justice to them, our profession, or our world. If every student of color never truly feels at home on our campuses, our work isn’t finished yet. I urge us to take a critical look at the work we do–from event evaluations to student selection processes and beyond–to examine if our policies, procedures, and campus cultures are still perpetuating historic goals.
Tori Amason

Tori Amason is the Program Director for Leadership Education at University of Kentucky.

Tori supervises a team of professional staff that supports leadership programs and registered student organizations at the University of Kentucky. Within her role, she also teaches a leadership course and advises TEDxUKY. Tori advises Poetic Justice, a spoken word activist group on campus, as well. She holds a bachelor’s in education and a master’s in student affairs and higher education from Texas State University–San Marcos. Her ACUI involvement includes serving on regional conference planning teams and regional leadership teams. Stay connected with Tori by email at and on Twitter @anoveltee, and read her blog at


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