Even for professors, it seems “all publicity is good publicity.”

Despite the fact the campus “white privilege” movement has been widely mocked, including by students, many of its academic proponents are relishing all the attention it has received.

The concept of white privilege – with roots in the 19th century, a resurgence in 1980s feminist scholarship and now making a mainstream splash – doesn’t point fingers at white supremacy or racist acts, but at structural and historical problems in society. White privilege is about the way white people are treated, generally favorably, regardless of what is in their hearts and minds. And Harvard officials aren’t starting a course on the topic, despite what you might hear on Fox.

But despite misconceptions and misinformation, Paul R. Croll, assistant professor of sociology at Augustana College, sees the recent discussion as part of a watershed moment for the academic field. “It’s a complex, deep sociological idea being brought into the mainstream, and it’s not easy to understand always. But even an angry discussion opens the door,” Croll said. “Bill O’Reilly saying ‘I don’t have white privilege’ is still Bill O’Reilly saying ‘white privilege.’ ”

…When Kyle Olson, editor-in-chief of the conservative activism site Progressives Today, went on Fox News last week to discuss his investigation into the White Privilege Conference, he asserted that the white privilege movement looked to take down capitalism and Christianity.

Abby Ferber, a scholar of the far right and a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, also received hate mail for her work at the conference, and said the pushback took her by surprise. “When I was studying the white supremacy movement, I faced no resistance whatsoever,” she said. “It’s only as the work looks at everyday racism that people are feeling very threatened and we see this incredible resistance and backlash.”

There’s a silver lining to the hate mail and opposition, said Jacqueline Battalora, a professor of sociology and criminal justice Saint Xavier University.

“Some of us have been talking about white privilege for a very long time but in many ways we should thank Fox News because they’re giving it legs,” said Battalora, author of Birth of a White Nation. “The more we have a conversation, the more we’ve revealed the problems with our history. That has the potential to bring out a change to benefit all of us.”

…At the optional orientation for white students at Illinois Wesleyan University, called “Engaging Diversity,” assistant professor of sociology Meghan Burke said the program has seen steady numbers and engaged students, with accreditors pointing to it as a positive move in diversity efforts.

But four years into a program that serves about 20 students each year, organizers still face the challenge of not “scaring students away” and pushing past the idea that “we’re supposedly this color-blind society,” she said.