Campus diversity provides students with an education far beyond what they receive in the classroom alone, and that’s because diversity is not something that can be taught — it’s something that must be experienced. And where could be a better place to experience diversity than in the heart of a progressive town like Ann Arbor?
But let’s face it — we aren’t always going to be living in a place like this. Even if we do end up staying around campus after graduation, the “real world” isn’t quite so pretty. Here’s something you may not be aware of: racism and white privilege still exist here at the University.
The Sociology 102 discussion I was a part of last semester, entitled “Race and Class Inequalities in Detroit, the USA, and Beyond,” had a very unique way of taking attendance. Instead of raising a hand to signify one’s presence, we were expected to turn in a one-sentence example of white privilege.
This idea came from Peggy McIntosh, a professor at Wellesley College. She created the “White Privilege Backpack,” a collection of examples of the general benefits that white people unwittingly experience. My class’s “backpack” differed slightly because the examples of privilege were supposed to be things that students saw on campus or within the city. The goal of the backpack project was to raise awareness of the prominence of white privilege, because it is only possible to change the way we think about a problem after we become aware of it.
At first, I found it difficult to determine what exactly qualified as white privilege. But then, after hearing what my fellow classmates thought, I realized there were privileges all around me that I had never noticed. The examples made me think about something I hadn’t before, and I gained a new understanding of the reality of social inequality.
It wasn’t just the big things, like being able to walk around late at night without receiving suspicious looks. For me, the little examples had the most profound impact, such as, “No one ever asks me what to call the people of my race,” or “As a white person, I can attend a prestigious school and no one will wonder what sport I play,” It’s a simple example, yet sadly true — a white person has the privilege of living without having their opportunities questioned.
Some other examples included, “People don’t automatically assume that I’m from Detroit,” “No one questions if I was admitted to the University because of affirmative action,” “I can be in a group with peers of my own race and no one thinks we’re a gang,” and, perhaps most importantly, “I have the privilege of not thinking about my privilege.” These examples show that white privilege still exists on our campus.
Here’s where you, the average University student, come in. My class created a mural that expresses many of the ways white privilege has affected our lives. It is now located across from Amers in the Union. It will be hanging there through the month of January.
Next to the mural, there is a blank poster. This space is for all of you. Add your ideas and see what other students have to say. It might just surprise you. Perhaps soon you’ll find yourself considering that you’re never told your accent is hard to understand. It might make you realize something about the world in which we live, and maybe it will even give you the motivation to do something about it. After all, ending white privilege is up to us.
Patricia Bradley is a LSA freshman.