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Friday, November 4, 2016

Giving thanks for my privilege...

As Director of the CTL, I have organized a series of events this year around the theme 'Teaching the Whole Student'. Each of the events focuses on a different aspect of student identity and how those identities may impact their experience in our classrooms. So far, we've had one on international students, LGBTQ+ students, and students in emotional distress; next up is military-affiliated students and in the spring, we're addressing first-gen students, bilingual students, microaggressions and sexual assault.

Although I consider myself a pretty enlightened person, each of the events so far has taught me a lot and made me think a little harder about how different my own experience is/has been from many of my students. One thought that I keep coming back to is how many things about my everyday life that I take for granted, particularly things that I am able to say, do or feel (or not feel) that other people cannot. In other words, I keep thinking about my privilege.

That led me to post the following on my Facebook earlier today. I'm sharing here because I think that as teachers, we have a special obligation to be aware of our privilege, and how it can make us different from our students. I'll come back and update this post throughout the month with my individual posts about privilege...

"On occasion in the past, I have used Thanksgiving being in November as an opportunity to give thanks throughout the month for the many blessings in my life, both publicly and privately. This fall, for various reasons, I have been repeatedly reminded that there are many blessings I take for granted that other people simply do not have; in other words, I’ve been struck by how much privilege I enjoy. That may sound odd coming from an Asian-American woman but “privilege” is defined as a special right, advantage or immunity available only to some people and not others. Given that definition, I clearly enjoy a TON of privilege. Over two decades ago, Peggy McIntosh, wrote: “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions...” Although she was referring specifically to white privilege, I believe that any time one is part of a majority group, or when one is part of a group that holds a certain amount of power or status, there is a similar invisible knapsack of privilege you carry (some clearly bigger than others).

Right now in particular, I think we all could use a little more awareness about our own invisible knapsacks - the things we are able to do, have, say, or feel without even thinking about them but that are not available to others. So this is a heads up that throughout this month, I plan to post a bunch of FB posts giving thanks for my privilege.

I’m writing this introductory post because my intention is not to make anyone feel guilty or judged. Many people think that saying “X has privilege Y” is implying that X should NOT have that privilege, that Y should be taken away from X. But I think what is usually meant (and definitely what *I* mean) is that Y should not be a *privilege*, something available only to certain people and not others, but should be available to *everyone*. So I don’t think anyone needs to feel guilty for having privilege but I DO think it’s important to acknowledge that what we have IS privilege, and to be grateful when we receive benefits by virtue of our membership in a particular group if those benefits are not available to everyone. I do also believe privilege carries a responsibility to make sure that privilege is not abused (and even better if you are doing something to make your privilege available to more people) but you can’t do that if you don’t even recognize it in the first place.

Because a lot of people associate privilege with things like race or gender, I specifically want to point out that at least some of the privileges I have been thinking about are things I get because I am part of a group that I worked to be a part of – for example, I worked damn hard for the privilege I experience as a tenured professor. But that doesn’t mean I should take those benefits for granted. My larger point is simply that it’s good to recognize when we receive benefits that not everyone receives; doing so can build empathy and gratitude, both of which help us be happier people (and god knows, I could use some happy these days).

My hope is that by stating my privilege publicly, those who share that privilege might be prompted to think about what it means for those who don’t share it. And for those who don’t share it, I hope they might feel a bit more understood. For now, I will be making these posts public but reserve the right to delete any comments from people I consider disrespectful. Thoughtful (as in, ‘full of thought’) comments from my many awesome friends are always welcome…

p.s. I am not at all sure that this is a good idea but it’s been stuck in my brain and I think the only way to get it out is to actually post this. We’ll see what happens…"

Day 1: I am thankful that as a woman of color, I can talk about race and gender issues without feeling guilty, or like people want me to apologize for the words and deeds of others.