A Discussion on the Power of Privilege

InclusionIn my previous post, I spoke about the value and importance of Ethnic Studies for the development of young scholars and today’s society by extension of these scholars’ presence in society. The film I discussed was one I first viewed while in graduate school, and like many in the higher education field, I am a continuous learner. Case in point, I am constantly reading the works of various authors, but also my scholarly friends who lend their voice to the world. Recently, I found a blog post from Janice S. Robinson, Esq, the Vice President for Diversity and Community Affairs at the Teachers College, Columbia University. While at TC, I had the privilege of engaging with her on diversity issues and not surprisingly, she continues to push me to think about the world in which I live and contribute. In this particular post she discusses the Power of Privilege. Professor Robinson raises some key points that are often, I feel, overlooked or not discussed in a universal manner. With the multidimensional world that higher education is, conversations on how to support the needs of diverse groups of students, how to engage equally, incorporate and welcome outliers amongst other initiatives, are not going to fade away. And while we are all individuals, facing different obstacles day-to-day, we as people, do share some commonalities, including privilege.

Our experience with and exposure to privilege, the way it manifests in our lives, varies from person to person, but it is a presence that we can often take for granted. Recognizing that each of us has some type of privilege has the ability to shift these conversations from an ‘us vs. them’ dynamic to hopefully a more vibrant conversation, and as Professor Robison suggests, will enable us to “begin to work together to solve problems and bring a spirit of inclusion and cooperation to the workplace.” At the heart of the fight for equality is an ability to understand what institutionalized and learned conditions are placed upon people based on gender, sexuality, race, socioeconomic class, etc. and how those conditions affect their lives and futures and conversely prohibit a basic quality of life to which all people are, or should be, entitled. Often, recognizing the ways in which we are similar can make the difficult conversations, which issues in diversity, access and equity bring to light, more productive. In essence, recognizing our privilege enables us as higher education professionals to find similarities, despite our differences, that hopefully allow us to engage, support and learn from each other but also will allow us to help our communities and empower our students.

By Kendall Williams

Professor Robinson’s piece can be found on www.diversityisnatural.com

Direct link: http://www.diversityisnatural.com/robinson/

Diversity is Natural™ is a Web site dedicated to diversity-related topics in the legal profession. This site will feature timely articles written by prominent in-house attorneys, law professors, judges and other legal professionals. This site will address issues such as recruiting and retaining diverse candidates, career development, mentoring and career advancement, among others. In a time when there is a great deal of press about corporate diversity “initiatives,” we hope to modify the dialogue so that diversity is not viewed as simply an initiative, and to discuss ways in which it is, and should be fundamentally part of the organization’s culture. Diversity is Natural™ will prove to be a valuable resource for corporate general counsel, in-house lawyers, law students, and other legal professionals who want to cultivate and foster diversity as an organic and natural element of their business environment.

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