Tuesday, May 23, 2017


Activity directions: +1 for statements that are true; -1 for statements that are not true. Write down total score at the end.
  • Your success (academics/career) is generally attributed by others to your intelligence and hard work.
  • Your accent/use of language is not perceived as foreign or strange by most people.
  • At least one of your parents went to college
  • Your family has never been referred to as "Broken.
  • You are not seen as a "credit" to our race/ethnicity/socio-economic status/gender.
  • Holidays you celebrate are commonly recognized and observed.
  • You've never had to seek academic accommodation 
  • Most of the people are your place of work/campus look like you.
  • You've can speak openly about your significant other with relative certainty that others will not raise an eyebrow.
  • You've (almost) never had to modify the way you speak.
  • You've never been questioned about whether or not you work at your company/attend your institution as a student
  • You've (almost) never had to worry about your physical safety.
  • You are not/were not a first-generation college student.
  • You never had to worry about having enough to eat.
  • Medical care has (almost) always been accessible.
  • You do not live with PTSD, depression, anxiety or another mental illness
  • When you discussion future occupations, you can envision workplaces where people who look like you are working.
Privilege. Just the word is enough to cause an awkward moment in any conversation. The idea that unearned benefits to a subset of people solely based on their identify or upbringing is enough to make any anyone uneasy. But what's most provoking is when that accusation has been laid squarely on you. We have a stereotype of what privileged individuals look like: lazy, vapid, narcissistic, all with a polished exterior. And yet the truth is that those who are privileged are often just as hard-working as the rest of us. The difference lies in the safety net.

The discussion of privilege has been an ongoing one between Grey and I since we first met. Though Grey is a white, cis-, heterosexual male, he's also a first generation college graduate who's father actively discouraged him from doing any higher education. His sister was the one who blazed the trail to higher education and all of them went the community college followed by transfer to a 4 year institution route. But it wasn't easy as his family's social circle didn't know how to support college students and often there was jealous and a sense of betrayal for all of them moving beyond what this circle understood. This same support was lacking to from those that he would soon consider his peers as Grey struggled to fit into a world where a certain standard of behavior/mannerisms was assumed. My own background is better as college was rarely questioned, but my mother was highly threatened when both my brother and I chose to go on for more education outside the standard 4 year degree. Hence my own struggle to social fit into a world where those around me seem groomed for from day one, adding a fun layer to the imposter syndrome.

Yet, neither Grey nor I are allowed to talk about this. Any mention of our situations and struggles is quickly silenced or we are admonished for daring to assume others haven't had it hard too. Most recently sitting in an inclusivity workshop, a vast amount of time was spent calming those who immediately felt uncomfortable about facing their privileged. They were quick to cite all their hard work and hardships. All while suppressing the very population they supposedly wanted to better serve.

In May, the Washington Post ran a powerful article about "Black Branding." The theme is a simple one: those with money and resources displacing those that have lived in an traditionally impoverished area, usually from several years. Gentrification is a recognized problem in many American cities, but what is most toxic about this is the attitudes from those coming in. From organic food to school choice to child care, they claim attraction to areas due to diversity, but they don't actually integrate.

It in these settings, where the differences between haves and have nots is glaring. Yet opening the discussion is extremely difficult as most of those in positions of privilege have honed their defense mechanisms. Grey and I both have been accused of not being mindful of diversity by these very people, all while counter arguments are quickly squashed and shunned. After all, their intentions are good. How could that possible make them in the wrong with their actions?

It's frightening to witness.

Back in January, Bent Not Broken wrote a beautiful post confessing her privilege. On the heels of the Women's March, she talked about all privileges she had that she felt should not be privileges at all, but basic rights. For the past 7 years, starting with infertility to loss to a difficult pregnancy to going amazingly into debt to having to relocate just to exist, I've wondered aloud the exact same thing. And what I've come to realize is that the only way we're really going to see these changes is to start with the difficult inward and outward analysis. In means listening to others, even if we disagree with their viewpoints or feel insanely uncomfortable about what they are suggesting about us. It means stepping outside our comfort zones. It means realizing that real change only comes when we agree to be open to all, even if it requires us to do the hard work of address our core beliefs.

Where we've seen this in my classrooms is creating inclusive environments where learning goals are the focus and all students are welcome, despite their background or beliefs.

Which has meant including those that may be in the minority of political views, letting those know who voted for Trump that they will not be bullied or minimized.

It means not acknowledging veterans publicly as we have students from war-torn areas with families that were destroyed.

It means encouraging students to complete group work in libraries or other public spaces.

It means quietly pulling some students aside when they make jokes or comments that may be inappropriate and allow those who may have been offended to make the first move instead of assuming.

And it means often times listen to stories or opinions that trigger a deep-seating fury calmly, with curiosity and with an attitude of trying to understand.

Because at the end of the day, despite all the hardships and hurdles, Grey and I know we are privileged too. We are the privileged majority from the infertility community who is parenting. We are the privileged graduate students who are working in key institutions where we are making an impact. We are privileged to have access to medical care, to healthy food and a clean source of water. We are privileged in that we can now afford to pay our rent, our heating and electric bills and not have to worry about that happening.

And we are privileged because we finally have something of a safety net that we can build under us. Something that we can actually give to the Beats and hopefully generations to come.


  1. Beautifully written. Thank you.

  2. Lots to think about. And this ties in a bit with the post I'm working on that will go up tomorrow.

  3. If you're actually listening to views that make you uncomfortable, and encouraging students to do so, you have my respect. People need to build resiliency and that's a good place to start.

  4. I've been thinking about this for at two days now, and it's given me so much to chew on! Examining privilege is so important to understanding how we perceive the world around us and seeing things from another's perspective. I love that you incorporate this into your classes and now you have me thinking about ways that I can do the same (given the nature of what I teach, I already teach about identifying biases to an extent, but I can do a better job).

  5. Beautiful post. I think we tend to view privilege in the either/or sense: I'm privileged or I'm not. But I think it's closer to what you have here. Each person has facets of life where they are in the privileged position and other facets where they are not. A minority in one area of life (for instance, race) is in the majority in another area of life (for instance, religion), and we can't dismiss any of our privilege in trying to fix the areas of life where we are not privileged.

  6. I've read this a few times & I'm still thinking about it. I read BnB's post too. I recognize that while I'm not privileged in the sense of being rich & well connected, etc., I am extremely privileged in other ways, and certainly in the eyes of some people who don't have the same advantages as me. It does tend to be a mixed bag, as Mel says above. Anyway, thanks for making me think!


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