Privilege and Luggage

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege and luggage. What do I mean by that? Let me explain.

Growing up, I never thought about the privileges I had. I never fully understood how my life circumstances, environment, access to resources, and social class linked to my potential for success. As a child, I of course knew that the categories “fortunate” and “less fortunate” existed. I knew about fairness, equality, and that advocating for things to be fair was important. I was also taught to be thankful (among other important lessons my parents taught me). Despite this, I think to a certain extent, I was unaware of the privilege I was experiencing as I was experiencing it. To me I was just living life, going about my day to day business.

I slowly became aware of my privilege through my experiences as an adult. I unconsciously learned about privilege in my lecture halls while perusing my History degree. I learned about it with my friends. I learned about it by seeing or hearing about others’ life circumstances and comparing them to my own. As I embarked upon my first profession as a high school teacher, I learned about privilege more directly by witnessing inequities in the lives of my students. Beyond the scope of the classroom, I learned about privilege as a confidant for my friends.

But all this learning was happening without my knowledge. It was happening without conscious reflection, until I learned more about the word privilege and its complex definition. For me, privilege is about the way that individuals are shaped either consciously or unconsciously, by their life’s circumstances. For an enlightening visual on the subject, take a minute to watch this clip if you haven’t seen it already:

Now that I feel more secure in my understanding of what privilege is, I see it everywhere I go. I see everyone’s invisible luggage trailing behind them as they come and go about their business. I think about the invisible ways that the students I work with are affected by their life’s circumstances, and I think often about the psychological impact that human beings have on one another. I am reminded of the importance of being kind and the value of the golden rule.

I think part of the reason we all love a good under-dog story is because we can all relate. We all have obstacles to overcome, and challenges that we face. We all believe in the potential for people to overcome their circumstances, no matter how hard. Nevertheless, we often go about our lives unconsciously acknowledging that privilege exists. We say things like “the cards are stacked against them,” and talk about individuals’ odds for success. Sometimes we get together and we discuss the things that other people have that we wish we did. Other times we discuss the empathy we feel for those less fortunate than us.

My point is not to say that I think that nobody talks about privilege. Actually, I think these conversations are happening all the time. It’s simply to say that I hope to see more conscious conversations happen in the future. Or, if not conversations with others, simply independent reflections on the subject.

As a new member of the Student Learning and Transitions team here at Nipissing, I see my role in supporting student transitions as inextricably linked to this topic/discussion. We all need a cheerleader. We all need someone who believes in our inner under-dog story. We all need to feel that our thoughts, feelings, and contributions to the world are valuable, and needed. We all need to be reminded of our strengths sometimes.

It is my hope, that through my role in supporting students, I will be able to fulfil this cheerleader role, and help students who believe they can’t realize “actually, I can.”

Words to live by.: