Debby Irving was raised in Winchester, Massachusetts during the racially turbulent years of the 1960s and ‘70s. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College and a Master in Business Administration from Simmons College. As general manager of Boston’s Dance Umbrella and First Night, and later as a teacher for 25 years in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Ms. Irving struggled to make sense of tensions she could feel but not explain in racially-mixed settings. She recognized the need to understand racism as a systemic issue, and she also recognized that her own whiteness presented an obstacle to grappling with racism.
In 2009, a graduate school course that she took at Wheelock College, “Racial and Cultural Identities,” provided the beginnings of answers to her questions and launched her on a journey of discovery. Ms. Irving now devotes herself to exploring with others the impact that white skin can have on perception, problem solving, and engagement in racial justice work. Her book, Waking Up White, tells the story of her “awakening.”