An Oregon college president defended the school's plans to hold an event called "Whiteness History Month" this spring.
Sylvia Kelley, interim president of Portland Community College, said in a statement Wednesday that the school viewed the April event as "as part of a larger national conversation around race and social justice on America's college campuses."
On the event's website, organizers said their goal was to "inspire innovative and practical solutions to community issues and social problems that stem from racism."
"We're trying to force a more nuanced discussion of society as it exists and how that society privileges people from a certain background and disadvantages people from other backgrounds," Community Relations Manager Abe Proctor told CBS Portland affiliate KOIN-TV.
The organizers, a panel of one of the college's diversity councils, have been accepting applications to participate in the event since October, but the event has gained national attention ahead of Black History Month in February.
Kelley said academics use the term "whiteness" to "describe the social and political construction of white identity related to beliefs, cultural norms and privileges."
She specifically addressed criticism circulated on conservative websites that the event intends to shame whites.
"We hope it will open up a space for dialogue and discovery around these complex issues," Kelley said. "There is no intention, as some may have feared, to 'shame or blame' anyone."
An opinion writer on The Washington Post's website Wednesday hailed the event as "a great idea."
The college's enrollment for the 2013-14 academic year was 89,903 full-time and part-time students, according to the school's website. The student body's ethnic background for that year was 68 percent white, 11 percent Hispanic, 8 percent Asian or Pacific Islander and 6 percent African-American.