Engaging How Privilege & Dominance Impacts Us & Our Work

If you missed the 2017 Teaching, Learning and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI) or would like to revisit a TLISI topic, follow along with us as as we feature various sessions on the Prospect blog over the course of the 2017-18 academic year. We’ll be sharing posts on the following themes: Teaching in the Jesuit Tradition, Incorporating Difficult and Timely Topics, Innovative Teaching Practices, Technology Enhanced Learning, Evidence-based Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Pedagogies, and Cross-Institutional & Cross-Departmental Collaborations. Many of the sessions were recorded and are viewable on Digital Georgetown (accessible by anyone with a Georgetown NetID). You can also find a links to all of our recorded sessions on the TLISI Resources page. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for our newsletter to stay updated on posts and more!

In the 2017 TLISI session, “Engaging How Privilege and Dominance Impacts Us and Our Work,” Daviree Velazquez Phillip (Center for Multicultural Equity and Access) and Bill Huff (Office of Residential Living) opened their session by asking attendees about their personal experiences  engaging in conversations about dominance and privilege in the classroom. One participant immediately responded with, “Not well!” The rest of the group laughed and snapped in agreement. Some said that they were unsure of how to define privilege or dominance in the first place. Others chimed in, saying attempts in the classroom had been awkward. Participants also discussed the difficulty of tackling these concepts outside of academia, in their personal and professional circumstances.

This session created the space to address concerns, including the complexities of identity, privilege, and dominance that frequently arise in academic, professional, and private spheres. It was personalized to the audience p and the systems they face on a day-to-day basis, with particular attention to privilege: the sometimes undeserved, unconscious, or inherited ability and entitlement to choose, hold power and resources, speak up, and control spaces. While Velazquez Phillip and Huff guided the session, everything from community-sourced definitions like this one to the session activities centered around the unique contexts and backgrounds of participants.

Strategies for Navigating Conversation

The session suggested that conversations around dominance and privilege must first center around context-awareness which is done by assessing the particular landscape. After discussing the wider landscape of Georgetown— its Jesuit heritage, status as a predominantly-white and wealthy institution (PWI), and the privilege-blindness that sometimes comes along with working in an elite institution— members discussed the demographics of the room. A few voiced unfamiliarity with practices around diversity and identity discussions, like asking for personal pronouns. As Huff put it, systems like dominance and privilege do not want individuals to be aware of such participation; a first step towards addressing problems of privilege and dominance is to make oneself aware.

The session participants noted that discomfort and uncertainty are all-too-frequent feelings that surface when having discussions about privilege. To work through the discomfort, Velazquez Phillip and Huff asked the participants to name what they needed out of their shared space. Among other points, participants suggested sticking to the personal; having a confidential space where information wouldn’t leave the room; and leaning into messiness without expecting perfection from each other. By creating an environment of mutual agreement and trust, the group created space for personal, growth-inducing conversations. This is a practice of establishing an environment is one faculty can utilize for having these types of conversations in the classroom.

Self-awareness is equally important to possess when tackling privilege in the classroom and beyond. Participants completed a Social Identity Profile worksheet adapted from an exercise by Central Michigan University, which asked for their membership in different social groups (gender, sex, sexual orientation, age, ability, etc.). The sheet asked participants to consider their self-awareness and memories with these identities, each identity’s perceived effects on self and others, and the identities that give them the most power and privilege in society. Members then moved into two concentric circles for share-outs, where Velazquez asked similar questions such as, “When have you experienced dominance?” and “When have you used your privilege to your advantage?” One partner listened while the other shared, and then the pair switched.

These dialogues ended the session, and underscored the value of trust and awareness in supporting personal conversations. An activity like this one be effective in cultivating a greater understanding of how to navigate conversations that address dominance and privilege.
For more information on addressing identity, privilege, and dominance, check out the programs hosted by the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access and CNDLS’ Doyle and Inclusive Pedagogy initiatives.