A Different Kind of Privilege
In her essay, McIntosh describes the concept of white privilege as “an invisible package of unearned assets” granted to white people solely on the basis of race and separate from any economic advantage. In a list of its daily effects, she includes such things as going shopping without being harassed and being late to meetings, swearing, or dressing sloppily without those behaviors being associated with her race.
The essay, along with subsequent teachings, suggests that building an awareness of what it means to be white is key to understanding the experiences of other races and, ultimately, to reducing discrimination.
“For a couple decades, we’ve lived with this color-blind ideology that if we don’t see race, there’s no racism. Or, it’s racist to talk about race,” Hildebrandt said. “I think that does a lot of damage to people who experience discrimination or bias. So I think moving away from that and starting to have those conversations is a healthy thing.”
In diversity trainings at other workplaces, Mendoza has illustrated the concept of white privilege with the “privilege walk.” Participants stand in a line, hold hands, and step forward or backward depending on his instructions.
The question that creates the greatest divide: “Can you call upon the police knowing that they will help you?” He instructs those who answer yes to take two steps forward and those who say no to take two steps back. White participants are often shocked at the results, he said.
“I believe trainings are helpful in getting majority individuals just for an hour to develop a sense of what it might be like to be a minority,” he said.
In sociology classes, Hildebrandt and Swauger use games to illustrate societal privilege. In the Neighborhood Game, developed by one of Swauger’s graduate school colleagues, Kathleen Bulger Gray, now at Elizabeth City State College in North Carolina, two teams are given resources to build a community, but the teams don’t know the game is stacked. Swauger described a well-developed community on one end and stick houses on the other when the game is over. While members of the poor team figure out they have fewer resources, she said members of the wealthy team often say they thought the other team was “playing the game wrong” or “couldn’t get along” or “didn’t try hard enough.”
In Stump the Race, Hildebrandt separates the students by race, and they come up with 10 questions about their culture they think the other teams can’t answer. “The white students really struggle to stump the other groups,” she said.
Hildebrandt uses the game to show students how much the majority controls—from whose ideas are promoted to whose news is shown to whose music gets played. “Being a minority, you kind of know how that goes,” she said.
The sociologists say their greatest gains in developing cross-cultural understanding are through immersion programs attached to the department’s Global Service Learning courses. Swauger takes a group to Jamaica, Hildebrandt to the Navajo Nation, and Susan Boser to Brazil, in collaboration with Amizade Global Service-Learning, a Pittsburgh nonprofit.
After students live with Jamaican families and build relationships with locals, they begin to see resorts and other tourist spots as artificial, Swauger said. For example, a $12 hamburger at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville loses its appeal when students see their Jamaican friends eating bagged lunches. “Students very physically experience the exclusion,” Swauger said.
“I think the university’s job is to broaden students’ perspectives that there are other lifestyles, other religions, other ways. But I also think it’s our job to help students communicate their differences of opinion. You don’t have to accept everything, but you definitely have to learn how to respect it and how to work with everyone.”
— Malaika Turner
The effects of the immersion experience can be lasting, she said. “They change majors, they get involved, they have passions they didn’t have before they went.”
In addition to Swauger and Hildebrandt, many others at IUP emphasize the need for greater support for service projects, events, organizations, and trainings that increase cultural sensitivity and create better global citizens—things they say are sorely needed in a country in which, according to the Pew Research Center, minorities will be the majority by 2050.
“I think the university’s job is to broaden students’ perspectives that there are other lifestyles, other religions, other ways,” Malaika Turner said. “But I also think it’s our job to help students communicate their differences of opinion. You don’t have to accept everything, but you definitely have to learn how to respect it and how to work with everyone.”
Most agree that the first step in building this understanding is communication, which starts with the events and conversations going on this spring.
Driscoll emphasized the need to create “safe spaces” for these conversations to encourage open reflection. “We need to find ways to talk honestly about our own experiences and really listen, without being judgmental, to other people’s experiences, so we can start to get a feel for others’ paths through their lives. It’s fundamental to how we come together and learn and go forward.”
IUP’s new academic building, replacing Keith and Leonard halls, houses the space, the technology, and the minds to prepare today’s students for tomorrow.
Considered Indiana Normal School’s guiding spirit, Jane Leonard inspired thousands of students and, perhaps, a U.S. president.
IUP is not an exception to incidents of intolerance and hatred in the form of racism. “If we expect today’s students to go forth and lead as they graduate, then we must provide them examples, and we must correct injustices at IUP right now.”
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