Record number of essays received for controversial Westport contest
Updated 12:20 pm, Friday, March 17, 2017
WESTPORT — TEAM Westport received a record number of essays on this year’s topic — white privilege.
The submissions exceeded 25, according to Harold Bailey Jr., the chairman of TEAM Westport, but he declined to specify the exact number of submissions.
The essays have been under review by the contest’s judges since March 8 and are expected to be fully evaluated by March 27, with the formal award presentation for the top three essays to take place on April 3 in the McManus Room of the Westport Library.
There has been some talk, given the national and international attention this year’s topic has received, that the location might be changed to accommodate a larger crowd. At this point the plan is still to house the presentation in the McManus Room, which has a seating capacity of approximately 100 people, according to Rachel Reese, director of marketing and communications for the library.
“There is no formal registration required to attend the awards
Facts Surrounding the 2017 Teen Diversity Essay Contest (source: TEAM Westport)
Essay Challenge:”White privilege, surfaced as a topic during the recent presidential election. In 1,000 words or less, describe how you understand the term ‘white privilege’. To what extent do you think this privilege exists? What impact do you think it has had in your life—whatever your racial or ethnic identity—and in our society more broadly?”
Our challenge asks students to research the concept of “White Privilege” and tell us to what extent they think it exists.
Our challenge does not
Make any statement one way or the other re: existence
Imply a right answer
Imply or signal anything about the Town of Westport other than an openness to exploring the topic
The Essay Contest is voluntary.
No students are forced to enter.
It is not part of any school curriculum or classroom requirement
The Contest is only open to 9-12 grade residents of Westport attending any school anywhere or
non-resident students who attend public or private schools located in Westport.
It is not open to any other individuals or groups outside the Town of Westport
The Contest requires the written permission of a parent or guardian for entry.
No taxpayer dollars are involved.
All funding is via private contributions.
All members of TEAM Westport are volunteers
This is the 4th consecutive year we have held this contest
3 Prior topics surrounding race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation
The essay topic is intended to allow Westport 9-12th grade students to write about what the challenge means to them.
It is not and should not be about what
Older people think
People outside Westport think
The Press thinks
Political groups think
The only voices that matter are those of the Westport student essayists
Five judges — including some members of TEAM Westport and some outside of the committee — will judge the submissions based on a “pretty rigorous” rubric “that has everything from structure to logic in order to sift out the top three,” Bailey said. He said the process will be further explained during the award ceremony.
When the essay topic was announced, there wasn’t a lot of blowback in town, and it wasn’t until the Associated Press ran an article in late January about the outrage the topic caused that the town and Bailey were bombarded with angry emails and phone calls.
Many of the hateful comments were predicated on falsehoods — like the notion that the prize money for the contest was funded through taxpayer dollars. It got to the point that TEAM Westport put out a fact sheet to dispel the myths surrounding the contest.
But recently, Bailey said, the negative comments have largely subsided and the local community has been steady in supporting him, along with TEAM Westport, in their essay contest prompt, which challenged students to grapple with racial issues.
“I’ve just got a lot more reinforcement from people in the town saying that it’s something that ought to be discussed,” Bailey said.