Students recognize their privilege in first workshop held by sociology instructor


Privileged students are not often aware how fortunate they are. One workshop sought to change that. 

Jeff Wilhelms, part-time lecturer in the Department of Sociology, held "The Privilege Walk" workshop for the first time yesterday afternoon for his "Race Relations" class, at the Livingston Recreation Center.

Puzzled students voluntarily lined up across the gym, not knowing what to expect. 

Wilhelms explained he was going to ask particular questions out loud and students were to either step forward or step backward, depending on their answer. 

Over the course of 31 questions dealing with diversity, whiteness and race, students began to look around and notice differences between themselves and their peers.

“Look around,” he asked. “Where are you relevant to other people? What do you see?”

The exercise was designed to bring awareness to college students across the nation dealing with the disparities created through class, diversity and race, whether they know it or not, Wilhelms said.

“One of the interesting things about the people … they’re coming from rather privileged circumstances,” Wilhelms said. “To be at (a) quality school like (Rutgers), they’ve won the lottery — but what are they going to do with it?”

Wilhelms said this exercise not only intended to raise awareness to different races and ethnicities in the class, but also to help students see that not everyone begins at the same infrastructure of life.

"Some people got a head start on others on the ladder of opportunity," he said.

Kevin Yarusinky, a part-Irish, Slovakian and Hungarian School of Arts and Sciences senior, said he was intrigued by the workshop.

“I’m interested in the history," he said. "I’ve never really noticed how messed up some of (the U.S.) policies were in the past. Obviously I knew about slavery but … it’s not only African-Americans who were discriminated against.”

He mentioned Europeans, Japanese, Irish and Chinese populations as other ethnicities that experienced discrimination in the country.

Theresa Horan, a Native American and African-American School of Arts and Sciences senior, spoke about her experiences before and after the workshop.

“I didn’t have an idea (of what to expect), he just had us meet here," she said. "But once he started with the questions, (the intention) became clear.”

She said her reaction to the questions were not as meaningful as it could have been to others, but she attributed her reaction to her age.

Horan, 56, said she could see herself working with issues dealing with inequalities in the future. 

She said her experiences and familiarity helped her understand the meaning of these types of workshops.

 “I’m not surprised that it was white males at the front the class and the people of color in the back,” she said.


Julian Jimenez

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