An update from Jamie, a member of the Residential Commons Leadership Corps and a second-year student majoring in accounting in the Cox School of Business.
“Typically, we become most conscious of privileges when they just start to get taken away from us.” –Dr. Owen Lynch, Associate Professor in Meadows School of the Arts and Director of the Communication Studies Honors Program, during the “Battling Bias” Student Senate Diversity Committee discussion on November 5, 2013.
As students at SMU, we have privileges. A privilege is an advantage, right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed by a particular group of people. Some of them include the ability to get good grades, the chance to learn in the classroom, the socioeconomic status to afford school, for some the opportunity to live away from home, and the freedom to express ourselves. While we all share these common privileges, we also differ among many boundaries. Some are lucky enough to be from extremely economically well-off families, some experience male or female privileges, some feel they have an advantage due to their religious affiliation, and some believe they benefit from their ethnicity/race. We would notice if these were suddenly taken away from us. (Imagine suddenly you were the opposite gender, changed to a different race, or became part of a different socioeconomic group. It would be pretty huge.)
The 2013 SMU Student Senate “Battling Bias” series addressed the issue of “privilege” in these broad categories during their discussion this past Tuesday. Panelists challenged attendees to look at mock situations and see how privilege existed, how it could translate or happen at SMU, and what we could do about it. Specifically, they posed the question “How can one person use their privilege to help out another person?” Many offered solutions as well as posed questions to the administrators.
To be honest, Tuesday evening I walked in not knowing what to expect. I am not a member of Student Senate, not a part of any diversity club, and haven’t been to a town hall discussion since the first semester of my freshman year. I knew three of the panelists, but I looked around the crowd waiting to go into Mack Ballroom and saw no one I knew. (This was a little disheartening.) Then I saw Greg Hopkins, a First Year Senator with whom I competed in the “World Changers Shaped Here” challenge at the second home football game. (Finally, a friend! Yay!) We struck up a conversation.
But when I passed through the doors, I was handed a number that told me my assigned table. What!? I wanted to sit with Greg, my only friend! Random tables? Really? (As if I didn’t feel uncomfortable enough already.) Before I walked in, I felt I had the privilege to sit where I wanted to sit. With whomever I wanted to be next to. With someone similar to me. Someone I knew. I thought I had the right to be in control. But I didn’t. And that took me by surprise.
Unlike the privileges that control our existence as people — the ones talked about in the discussion, i.e. gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status, or ability to learn — we assume we have little privileges each and every day subconsciously. And the second I sat down at Table 12, I realized how guilty we all are of it. Some examples include…
- Because I need to get places, I reserve the right to have a car on campus.
- And since I pay for a parking pass, I shouldn’t get ticketed.
- Because I am in a hurry, I have the right to skip the line.
- I still pay tuition, and really want to live in an apartment, so I should have immunity to the second year on campus requirement.
- Since I have to stay on campus, I should have the privilege to choose what building I live in.
- I studied for the test; therefore an A+ should be the reward.
- My parents pay a lot of money for me to go here; therefore I shouldn’t have to put up with community bathrooms.
- Because I am [White, Black, Asian, Greek, an engineer, a fine arts student] I have the privilege to live with students similar to me.
- Since I showed up to this Bias talk, I should be able to choose where I sit.
I hear these sayings every day. And while a few are justified, I think SMU would be a more content campus if we just stopped assuming we have so many privileges. If these presumed “little” privileges were to be taken away from us, not much in our world would change. In fact, things might even get better. Here’s where Residential Commons comes in.
In 10 short months, freshmen will walk onto campus with fewer privileges than we had when we came here. I don’t mean to say they will be underprivileged by any means (that word has negative connotations), but their housing will be equally dispersed, just like I was randomly assigned to Table 12 on Tuesday. And while they might think they deserve the privilege to choose, they don’t. That is the reality. In life, we can’t always choose our coworkers, our fellow tenants, our bosses, or our family. So why live in a residence hall with students exactly like you? (That would get boring.) There is so much more room to learn and appreciate when people are thrust into a situation with peers dissimilar to them. And though it might seem scary, everything I’ve experienced and learned from thus far in my college career leads me to believe this mixing pot is going to add more meaning to the on campus [freshman] experience.
By 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, I felt glad they split up everyone at the discussion, especially because I got to make a few new friends. I sat with peers who had different privileges in life than I do — different views, different majors, different skin colors, religions, etc. What mattered is that we all showed up to the table, ready to listen rather than speak, passionately willing to break through our comfort zones in the hopes of making SMU a better place.
“Let go of all of those fears we have about getting to know other people on this campus…don’t limit yourself just because you think that’s what safe. I mean, a lot of people in this room I never would’ve met if I hadn’t shown up to things I didn’t think I would go to.” –Tien Dang, a sophomore student majoring in advertising and PR, and panelist at the Battling Bias Student Senate Diversity Committee discussion on November 5, 2013.