I thought I was quite privileged, until I did the UC DiversityFest privilege walk.
I had a light-bulb moment when I went to see how the Privilege Walk board was filling up in Puaka-James Hight Library. I set the board up a week ago, and was the first person to mark my final position. At number 17 I thought that must be about average, because it’s in the middle.
Fast-forward a week and I was floored to find out… I’m not average at all!
Participants are asked to respond to 35 statements about power and privilege by either taking a step forward, back, or remaining in place. The closer you are to number 1 at the end, the more power and privilege you have. Participants are then asked to reflect on the question, ‘How can my understanding of my privileges or marginalisations improve my existing relationships with myself and others?’
As a sociology graduate these kinds of questions have always fascinated me, but my light-bulb moment was to realise another reason why; because in this environment, I’m not actually that privileged. In some deep corner of my mind I must have guessed it but here was the proof I needed. So how can I use this new-found knowledge?
Going back to the question, how can my new-found understanding improve my relationship with myself: This exercise made me see how many of the circumstances in my life, beyond my control (such as my parents going through a divorce, having to work during secondary and higher education, and being bullied for something I can’t change) have made me less privileged than others. It made me reflect on some of the challenges on my path to university, and how the echoes of certain unavoidable marginalisations continue to challenge me today.
As to the question, how can my new-found understanding improve my relationship with others: The exercise made me wonder about the stories of those at numbers 34 and 36 – those individuals must have overcome incredible odds to be at UC today. And for numbers 1 and 3, did it come as a surprise to them; how did it make them feel? How do we feel as a group to realise our ‘average privilege’ is quite high?
It was certainly an eye-opening experience for me and I hope you will give it a go. The displays are up until 1 August, in all campus libraries.
I’m looking forward to the follow-up talk on 2 August and hearing about your experiences!