Columns / Discourse / April 19, 2017

Recognizing our privilege in academia

This term I’m seeing fellow classmates forced to think about and recognize their privilege on almost a daily basis, and it’s very interesting. I’m enrolled in EDUC 201: School and Society and AFST 227: The Black Image in American Film, the first of which I didn’t really want to take but was closed out of everything else, so alas, here I am.

On one of the first days of School and Society, professor Dr. Nate Williams asked, “Why are you here? Why attend college?” Many people explained that it’s for the opportunities and because it’s a way to make more money and career connections, which I agree with. I also said because it was either this or get ready to work one (or possibly more) full time jobs in order to support myself. I personally wasn’t very on-board with the whole college thing during the early part of high school and secretly hoped to get out of it, but I had to consider the likelihood of getting a good paying job with just a high school diploma. It’s a lovely thought, since college isn’t for everyone. However, women are known to be paid less than men in every field I know of, not to mention the salary disparities between races. If I want to make a livable income from a single job, it’s pretty much required for me to have a degree.

Let it be known that I consider myself decently privileged and I acknowledge that. I feel lucky enough to have parents that made sure I went to the best schools possible, and I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for them and the circumstances of my upbringing. That said, I am a black female who grew up on the south side of Chicago. Unfortunately that probably makes a lot of people assume I was poor and/or went to a school predominantly attended by minorities, several of whom had disciplinary issues and no plans post-graduation. It’s important to recognize that the images we see in media aren’t often accurate portrayals of life; they are stories augmented for views and ratings. Some schools are like the one I described, often because of funding issues that allow for poor staffing, regulation and resources. Do you think a student who has had five different math teachers in the last three years is likely to be provided with ACT or SAT prep books by that same school? IF they have a counselor or someone helping them research and apply to colleges, who’s going to pay the applications fees? Acceptance deposit? Tuition? Yeah…being able to apply and get into college is a huge privilege in itself.

Last summer I chose to stay in Galesburg and work on campus (for minimum wage) because I assumed finding a job that would pay more than that would be somewhere between very hard and impossible, especially given the lack of diversity I see in most local places. Of course availability and jobs vary wherever you go, but, for the most part, minimum wage is all I have to look forward to until I have a college degree or internship. Meanwhile, I have white male peers with no degree beyond high school currently paid what I expect to make upon graduation. Hope, actually, not expect to make. I don’t say any of this to make white guys or anyone else feel bad about what they have, nor do I want sympathy. I’m just aware of privilege, as well as a lack thereof, in many aspects of my life. Can you say the same?

If not, I really recommend taking School and Society and/or The Black Image in American Film.

Deja Jenkins, Copy Editor

Tags:  academia column discourse privilege

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