Students sitting at large desks in classroom
Photo by Christine Cousins

On Privilege: Building Community Through Classroom Conversations

Mandi Hardy

their identity, or they might face compounded barriers because of multiple aspects of their identity intersecting. For example, a black man who is gay may experience more homophobia (from outside the queer community) as well as racism (from within the queer community) than someone who is white. This is not universally true, which is often one of the struggles when talking about privilege. We can always find an example to counter every argument.

My goal here, and in my classroom, is to listen to and hear the stories of struggles and barriers rather than think of examples to prove them wrong. It’s easy to feel as though we are being blamed if we experience privilege. We are not. We are being asked to hear a truth. Here is another example: A friend who uses a wheelchair doesn’t have a lot of money and lives in an apartment in Toronto. When the elevator in his building broke down, he was trapped in his apartment for several days until it was repaired. Contrast this with another family I know, with significantly more wealth. They have renovated their home so that the father of the family, who uses a wheelchair, has easy access to the entire house and its amenities. Class makes a big difference to how the challenges of living in an ableist society impact these two wheelchair users. Put differently, one family’s experience of class privilege made a difficult situation easier. Both families experienced a hardship; however, one family was able to use their privilege to lift some of the barriers.

Why Is It Important To Talk About This With Our Students ?

When I first started planning to discuss privilege with my students, I was worried that it would be particularly difficult for the racialized students in my class. I was worried that the message they would hear was that they were somehow less valuable. I did not want to inadvertently reinforce the oppression they might experience in broader society. I was terrified that this would be their takeaway. I was, therefore, very surprised when that was not the case. It was more as if I were telling them the name for something many already had a deep, personal understanding of. In fact, the conversations of privilege proved more challenging for my white students as most had no life experience that had even hinted at the existence of a system that afforded them privilege. It can be hard for privileged people to recognize their own privilege. This can be one of the most difficult aspects of this discussion. It is very important to be clear no one is being blamed, and everyone has problems and struggles, regardless of privilege.



illustration of teacher talking to students

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Two young students working with tablet

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