Harvard to Require Students to “Check Their Privilege” During Orientation
Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government will require students to attend “power and privilege” training as part of orientation.
The New Yorker reported:
The wonks in training at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government will soon be subjected to a new and touchy-feely line of inquiry: Checking Your Privilege 101. In response to growing demand from student activists, administrators committed Friday to adding a class in power and privilege to its orientation program for incoming first-year students.
“We’re at one of the most powerful institutions in the world, yet we never critically examine power and privilege and what it means to have access to this power,” says Reetu Mody, a first-year masters student in public policy and a campus activist. “We’re excited to have the administration on board for training all Harvard Kennedy School first years.”
Privilege — a catchall term for the perks an individual enjoys in society because of his race, gender, or class — has been used to analyze social inequality for decades. It’s also enjoying something of a moment, thanks to social-justice bloggers and their critics, like Princeton freshman Tal Fortgang. In a viral article for the conservative Princeton Tory, Fortgang wrote that calls to “check his privilege” — that is, to consider how his good fortune might impair his ability to empathize with others in any given debate — “threaten to strike down opinions without regard for their merits” and “solely on the basis of the person that voiced them.” Being told to check his privilege is not overt reverse racism, Fortgang admitted, but it “toes the line.”
Mody has some sympathy for Fortgang and his ilk. “If what you’ve been told all your life is you’re really talented and you deserve what you have, it’s going to be really hard to find out Maybe I don’t deserve it, and all these other people equally deserve it but never even had a shot,” she says. “Schools are not giving students a space to manage that loss of identity.”