Being a woman who most easily fits under the label of white, heterosexual and middle-class on a campus under a ‘six month listening process,’ six months from the acquittal of George Zimmerman and just days after the media circus following the murder trial of Michael Dunn, I cannot help but analyze all the ways I hold societal privileges.
I think it’s time to have a conversation about privilege and power: in particular white privilege.
I know, many of you reading this have probably never thought of white privilege, maybe a few of you are even offended at the suggestion that you hold some special privileges based on your race or ethnicity.
Well, it’s time to get over it and begin unpacking the baggage of power and privilege here on campus.
While I sat in class a few weeks ago during a discussion on the week’s reading assignment, I pointed out that the reading addressed many issues of white, economic and educational privileges, but the professor quickly dismissed all of these issues as being secondary.
I was livid; certainly it was easy for him, a white middle class heterosexual male, a homeowner with a wife and children, who just happens to have a PhD, to view issues of power and privilege as secondary.
He will never be a minority.
He will never be excluded based on sexual orientation; he will never be sexually assaulted solely based on his visible gender identity. He will never be followed around a convenience store, suspected of shoplifting because of the color of his skin; he’ll never be judged because of his accent.
Never will someone make a statement directly about him, inviting the church to no longer discriminate against but neither fully accept him.
He will never feel the sting of not belonging, of having his credentials questioned because of his identity, never be tokenized. He will always hold the place of privilege.
Of course he was quick to dismiss power and privilege being the main issue; when you’re in the position of holding all the power and privileges, why question it?
It’s not the main issue for him, but it should be.
Those in positions of power and privilege need to start the discussion and invite others to realize the ways they are privileged.
On a campus where we are currently under a listening process to change EMU’s non-inclusive hiring policy, I can’t help but analyze privileges of all sorts.
What could be less inclusive than EMU saying, “You’re not welcome yet. Give us six months and we’ll think it over, maybe then you’ll be welcome. Maybe.”
And while I was full of hope that this process would yield results and be a game changer for this campus, will it really?
There are no policies on campus barring racial minorities from working here, but where are all the African- American professors? Hispanic or Asian-American professors?
While there are a few professors on campus who do not fit the dominant culture, by and large the undergraduate professors fit the dominant profile of white, middle-class heterosexuals.
Will changing this policy really make LGBTQ faculty, staff and students feel welcome here?
Or, will they only be tokenized, a rarity among the dominant white heterosexual culture, asked many times to speak for an entire people group. While now the push is, “I’m queer but my prof’s not here!” I want to ask the same question for all other minorities on campus.
This seems like something that has not yet been addressed because, most students and faculty on campus sit in a place of unrecognized racial, sexual and gender privilege; most students don’t believe this is an issue because it doesn’t affect them.
Their professors look like, speak like and identify like them.
I often feel as though my fellow students are saying, “Why bother to realize that some students feel completely out of place on this campus when I feel completely at home and welcome all the time? Why can’t they just fit in like me?”
I want my fellow students to begin thinking about their privilege and asking more questions, to ensure not just that our LGBTQ peers feel welcome, but that all students feel welcome.
Because I personally don’t sit in the margins and I do hold privileges, I have often been made to feel like it’s not my place to point out these issues of inequity.
However, I recently came to the understanding that it is absolutely my job to raise these issues and ask questions.
Those of us in positions of power and privilege must first acknowledge that we sit in those positions, deserved or undeserved, take a long hard look at how this affects our daily life and those around us, and then begin the conversation.
-Amanda Chandler, Contributing Writer
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