As educators and leaders in Higher Education, if you’re not engaging in authentic dialogue about privilege with your students, you are doing a disservice to their personal, social, and educational growth. As Directors of identity centers on our campus, we know that conversations about privilege and power are crucial to have with students of all different racial, gender, sexual, class, and religious communities. This is because our privileges are our blind spots–areas we may pay the least attention to and the areas we aren’t as aware of. Able-bodied people don’t tend to think about how a building’s entrance may be difficult to traverse on crutches or in a wheel chair. White people don’t tend to notice when only white people have spoken in a meeting. Cisgender people don’t tend to notice when they have made an erroneous assumption about someone’s pronouns.
When our privileges are unexamined, they can hugely impact the people around us and ultimately our campus climate and community. So when our campus’s Bias Incident Response Team decided to create a campus-wide proactive educational campaign, we joined the sub-team to design it. The framing we came up with was around privilege, and we dubbed our multi-year effort “The Privilege Campaign,” based in part on the incredible Un-Fair Campaign. This framing was particularly important because it engages all members of the community–every single one of us has privileges, so we are all implicated.
The design of the campaign was to start with employees of the College for year one. So often in Higher Education, we place the burden on students to be vulnerable and to lead the charge in the education and visibility of isms, power, and privilege. We ask them to speak their minds in classroom discussions, write personal essays, participate in campus dialogues, and work together with each other in student organizations. In contrast “The Administration” of the College is often seen as a monolithic authority, with little humanity to it. So the two of us, and our third sub-team member, worked to recruit a range of administrators and faculty to participate.
We reached out to some of the employees and students who see the most on campus, namely: Residential Life, certain professors, Security, Campus Life, Campus Activities, etc. 20 people agreed to participate in the first installment. We are now in the midst of year two, with 22 students and administrators participating. To participate, folks have to write both a “face statement” and an “artist’s statement.” The face statements have to be short and to the point, and have to focus on the individual’s privilege. But we all know that our privileges and identities are more complicated than a couple statements, so the artist’s statement was a way for each participant to expound on the tangle of their privileges and lack of privileges. You can see our face statements in the images in this post, and here are excerpts from our artists’s statements:
Luz: “My American citizenship has allowed me to work twice as hard to obtain an education and follow ‘the American Dream.’ The American Dream that soon became the American Nightmare.
Yet at the end of the day, I am a Latina whose ability and intelligence is challenged. I am rarely given the benefit of the doubt that I am a career woman, but I am given the benefit of the doubt that I am cleaning staff, cooking staff or any other job that doesn’t require a terminal degree.
Although I’ve had the opportunity to attain two degrees and I am considered to be successful for ‘surviving’ the Projects, and living the American Dream. As a first generation low income student, my success is the success of my family, my income is my family’s income, my family’s struggles and hardships are mine to own.”
Judy: “I chose to focus on my white privilege for the Privilege campaign because it’s the part of my identity in which I experience the most unearned privileges. I also wanted to interrogate my white privilege because my whiteness is a part of my identity that I don’t ‘see’ unless I really focus on it. In contrast, I find that my class privilege is a form of my identity that I can ‘see’ more clearly—I see it in the places that I work, in my interactions with my upper middle-class family, in my clothes and in my hobbies. My racial and class privileges have hugely influenced the access I have to resources, networking, and all different kinds of opportunities.
Directing the LGBTQ Center and the Women’s Center means that I wear some of the identities in which I don’t experience privilege on my sleeve—they’re right in my job title. Because of the insulation my class privilege provides, the discrimination I’ve experienced as a queer-identified woman has mostly been structural—I’m limited in where my partner and I can live and be considered equal citizens, for instance. But because of my class, I can choose where to live and what kind of jobs to have.“
Often certain communities feel the burden of diversity at many of our institutions, particularly those at the margins. This campaign was not intended to be the solution to all the tensions on campus around issues of racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. The campaign is just a step towards unpacking the various forms of privilege and the culture that currently exists in our institutions. For some institutions, this first step may be a difficult one because of the culture of silence, unawareness and denial that may exist. For others, your campus may already be acknowledging how privilege is functioning, but what are you and your colleagues doing to follow through? The Privilege Campaign is a way to engage the community–particularly those who hold many dominant identities–on what it means to practice engagement and accountability.
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