Incoming first-year students at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government will have the unique “privilege” to partake in a new pilot orientation course: Checking Your Privilege 101.
“We’re at one of the most powerful institutions in the world, yet we never critically examine power and privilege and what it means to have access to this power,” says campus activist Reetu Mody, a first-year masters student in public policy. “We’re excited to have the administration on board for training all Harvard Kennedy School first years.”
Currently, the topic of privilege is a sensitive one for some. In a viral article for the conservative Princeton Tory, freshman Tal Fortgang argues that privilege-checking “threaten[s] to strike down opinions without regard for their merits” and solely on the basis of the person who voiced them.” He does admit being told to check his privilege isn’t overt reverse racism but says it crosses the line.
Mody says most of the resistance to talking about privilege stems from mistakenly believing it’s to make individuals feel guilty, and it’s one of the reasons why she and other student activists lobbied for the course. They even created a Tumblr where students could anonymously share stories of racial insensitivity.
“Sometimes I feel that whole topics would be glossed over or completely misunderstood if I weren’t there to share my poor minority perspective,” one contributor writes on the site. “I remember sitting in class first semester and thinking, ‘No wonder the policies in America are so ass backwards! Harvard policy makers have no idea what they’re talking about, no accurate historical knowledge, no personal context, and no humility or courage to simply admit they don’t know and ask someone who does.’”
The content of the course is still being worked out, but Mody does have this to say:
“If you don’t have an understanding of sociology, political science, critical race theory, feminist critique, and revisionist history, it’s going to be very difficult to talk about certain groups’ experiences, and why these other groups continually have this advantage in society.”
Clutchettes and Gents, what are your thoughts on a privilege-checking course? Do you think it will be helpful in opening an honest discussion on privilege?