UW News

November 17, 2021

UW’s Interrupting Privilege expands with new website, celebration

UW News

people talking

UW doctoral student Marcus Johnson (right) talks about race with Seattle University Associate Professor Holly Ferraro in an Interrupting Privilege program at the Northwest African American Museum prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.University of Washington

Not long after the 2016 general election, faculty at the University of Washington’s Center for Communication, Difference, and Equity (CCDE) recognized a need for students, especially BIPOC students, to talk about their experience of race.

The hope was that by listening to each other and creating a community of experiences, it would be possible to disrupt racism in all its forms.

Under the leadership of the Center’s director, Ralina Joseph, students, alumni and community members started sharing their stories: when they first experienced discrimination; what it was like to be Black at UW; growing up in Seattle’s Central District and watching as the neighborhood gentrified; drinking from a water fountain labelled “Black only;” or quarantining while Black during the COVID-19 pandemic.

portrait of woman

Ralina Joseph

What emerged is Interrupting Privilege, a nationally recognized program based on Joseph’s “Radical Listening” approach, which teaches people how to listen fully without judgment. Begun as a classroom exercise, the program now has expanded to embrace the BIPOC Seattle community, partnering with the Northwest African American Museum.

On Thursday, the Interrupting Privilege Website Launch + Radical Listening Party is scheduled at Othello — UW Commons and online. The website and celebration are the culmination of five years of work, documenting people’s experiences and building community.


Join the Interrupting Privilege Website Launch + Radical Listening Party, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 18, at the Othello-UW Commons or online. Click here to register. Note: Vaccine card or negative COVID-19 test required for entry


“It’s an intimate opportunity to engage with your community,” said Meshell Sturgis, a UW doctoral student in communication who first took Interrupting Privilege as a class, and now helps facilitate the program. “It’s really geared toward communicating across differences.”

Building on the original intent ­— to bring different generations together to talk about race — Interrupting Privilege evolved organically, and the website is a way to bring more people into the conversation, said Joseph, who also is a professor of communication in the College of Arts & Sciences and associate dean for equity & justice and student affairs in the Graduate School.

“This has completely reshaped my work,” she recently told Converge Media’s Trae Holiday. A scholar trained in media studies, Joseph has moved from studying texts to engaging in conversations. “I’ve seen the need for people to learn to speak about race, and to speak to each other about race.”

As Interrupting Privilege grew, so did the catalogue of recorded, intimate conversations about race and racism in the Pacific Northwest. To build the website, teams curated those conversations. The site organizes the dialogues into themes that include COVID-19, advice for teachers, Black in Seattle, mental health and more.

Some of the dozens of conversations that are available include: “Black woman shares how microaggressions translate to online with video meetings”; “Older generation Black Seattleite reminisces about what the Central District looked like in the past and how much it has changed”; and “Two Black men share stories of when they first ‘realized they were Black.’”

“The Interrupting Privilege program has made our community a better place because it has equipped people of color with the tools and strategies to dismantle racism and privilege where it exists,” said LaNesha DeBardelaben, president and CEO of the Northwest African American Museum. “It is in the pausing, and the listening, and the exchange that we learn, reflect and gain greater clarity.”

People’s experience of race is different depending on where they’re from. Someone from the Pacific Northwest may not experience overt racism, but they still encounter microaggressions and racism in more subtle ways, said Anjuli Joshi Brekke, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside who completed her doctorate at UW and helped produce many of the recordings on the website.

By creating a website, people from other parts of the U.S. and the world can hear what it’s like to be Black in Seattle.

“It is helpful to put those stories out there and to have the ability for other communities that are maybe working on similar projects to connect with, to see how experiences are similar or different,” Brekke said.

DeBardelaben said the program is “a necessary part of our healing process” and will have a compounding impact and influence as more people learn and experience being in conversation about race.

While Interrupting Privilege may not change the hearts and minds of those calcified in racist beliefs, the collection can be a resource for people who are interested in these kinds of discussions and in interrogating some of their assumed beliefs of the ways in which they were raised.

“We still have a long way to go,” Joseph said. “This is not the moment for us to let up in any way, this is a moment for us to continue to push hard.”

For more information, contact Joseph at rljoseph@uw.edu.