Students sitting at large desks in classroom
Photo by Christine Cousins

On Privilege: Building Community Through Classroom Conversations

Mandi Hardy

this can be a bit daunting, because of the position conversations about race have previously occupied. We discuss why so many white people were chosen. We talk about the stereotypes and portrayals in the media that might mean that we haven’t heard as much about racialized people who have the qualities we think the best person in the world should have.

Often, by this point, almost all the names on the board have been underlined. Very often, there are no names of racialized women.

This can be a very impactful moment for students. Sometimes they are disappointed in themselves and their classmates. Sometimes they are shocked, because there aren’t any white students in the class. In one class James raised his hand, and asked if we could add the names of racialized women to the board. The whole class enthusiastically added racialized women to the board. I got a little choked up. It was one of those moments in teaching when it really seemed to be working.

After this, students have a real interest in taking action, in doing something to change the world. This is good, because if we are to have any hope of achieving a fair and just society, we need young people to be on board. So, I assign them a task. I call it “Eclipsed by Privilege: Discovering the Best People in the World.” Their job is to find someone who fits our best person in the world criteria, who they have never heard of before and who has not experienced privilege in their lives in some way, usually relating to ability, age, class, faith, gender, race or sexual orientation. They create posters celebrating these individuals and share them with the class. Each year I learn about some amazing people I have never heard of either.

What Are The Outcomes?

As the year goes on, we continue talking about privilege and the role it plays in society. There is a natural tie-in to many of the conversations we have in class. Most discussions around “whose voice is missing” are really conversations about privilege, and it’s an important perspective to consider when talking about point of view and bias. Students even find that having learned about privilege actually comes in handy in their own lives. These are the real situations that our students face, and many of these situations are ones that we might not be aware of because we haven’t faced them ourselves. The work of recognizing our own privilege is constant and ongoing. We must look at daily situations from a different perspective; we must think critically to achieve awareness of what we have taken for granted; and we must speak out when we


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