White teacher education students often distance themselves from racism (Sleeter, 1995a; Tatum, 1992b, 1994). White people can easily say, Racism has nothing to do with me; I'm not racist (Frankenberg, 1993, p. 6). Wellman's (1993) case studies of White racism support this view. The White women and men he interviewed tended to believe that racism was synonymous with personal prejudice, and because they did not feel prejudiced, racism must be someone else's problem. Whites can seem to remove themselves from racism, but they cannot escape their Whiteness. It is impossible to say, as Frankenberg (1993) notes, Whiteness has nothing to do with me, I'm not White (p. 6).
The concept of Whiteness, like the concept of race, is socially constructed and can have several layers of meaning. One layer, Whiteness as description, encompasses the characteristics of light skin and Western European physical features. Another, Whiteness as experience, describes the state of being race-privileged, the daily experience of receiving unearned privileges from which Whites benefit. A deeper and more influential layer, the ideology of Whiteness, refers to beliefs, policies, and practices (often unarticulated) that enable Whites to maintain power and control in society (Thompson & White Women Challenging Racism, 1997).
Many White college students readily recognize themselves as White by description but often fail to acknowledge or understand the privileges their white skin grants them. Their White privilege is often invisible to them; so is their participation in the ideology of Whiteness.
Some teacher educators and teacher education programs have responded to White students' need for greater understanding of race-related topics by providing opportunities for learning about multicultural education (Gollnick, 1995; Grant & Tate, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1995). Research involving White undergraduates in antiracist teacher education courses suggests the courses can help students recognize racial oppression in schools (Bennet, Niggle, & Stage, 1990; Bollin & Finkel, 1995; McCall, 1995) and help them gain insight into their Whiteness (Lawrence, 1996; Lawrence & Bunche, 1996; Tatum, 1992b; Valli, 1995).
These studies of race-focused multicultural education courses suggest they can be influential in changing expressed attitudes and convictions during the course. They provide little information on whether or how students' new learning or heightened awareness translates into teaching action once that class is over. I wanted to know for my own teaching whether teacher education students' changed attitudes about racism and themselves would carry over into classrooms with their students.
Multicultural Education as a Catalyst for Racial Identity Development
In a previous study (Lawrence & Bunche, 1996), I utilized interview and writing sample data from five students to illustrate how a multicultural education course was a catalyst facilitating racial identity development of White undergraduates. Data analyzed in accordance with Helms's theory of White racial identity development (1990, 1995) revealed that some students made slight changes from their previously held color-blind views, while others made more profound shifts in their thinking about racial privileging and the injustices of institutional racism.
Helms (1990, 1995) theorizes that all persons undergo a process of racial identity development characterized by different statuses extending from those least developmentally mature to most developmentally mature (1995, p. 184). White persons experience a developmental process involving six statuses: contact, disintegration, reintegration, pseudoindependence, immersion/emersion, and autonomy. These developmental statuses are not rigid and exclusive; one status may be more dominant during one period of time; others may be also be operating.
White students exhibiting dominant contact status characteristics are typically unaware of racism and its effects and often claim to view all people through a color-blind lens. When White students begin to learn about the benefits they receive because of their skin and the systems of inequality in society, they may experience a range of feelings and confusion. This state of disintegration signals a breakdown in their old ways of believing. Students experiencing a dominant disintegration status may rely on stereotypes and other misinformation as rationales for the inequalities now so evident. They may blame persons of color as responsible for the inequities of the racial status quo. When White students resort to this type of reintegration thinking (i.e., blaming the victim), they minimize the relevance of institutional racism, freeing themselves from the responsibility of racism.
When White students acknowledge that race has political, social, and economic implications and abandon their prior beliefs in White superiority, they begin moving away from a racist belief system toward a more nonracist identity. These new acknowledgements and attitudes are consistent with a pseudoindependent status. Further development of their White identities, labeled immersion/emersion, is signaled by an exploration of Whiteness in all its layers and by taking responsibility for interrupting racism. The sixth status, autonomy, is characterized by students' internalization of their new racial selves. They may more effectively challenge racism and other forms of oppression, and enter into alliances with people of color. Autonomy is the last developmental phase, but it is not an end point; people continually recycle through prior statuses struggling to be nonracist White people living in a racist society.
Design of the Current Study
I conducted this study to examine whether the shifts in thinking White students experienced about themselves as racial beings and about systems of oppression during a multicultural education course were evident in teaching practice during a practicum. I wanted to know the degree to which their racial identity development influenced their teaching practices and interactions with students and school personnel. My interest in this question stemmed from my work with White teacher education students struggling to understand their relationship to racism and my personal reflections on my own racial identity development as a White female educator.