Realizing Privilege

Posted on

What’s changed the most since coming to Trinity is my understanding of white privilege. I identify as being a white, Irish Catholic, working- class, straight, woman. When I introduce myself, though, I would never flat out say those things. Before, my socio-economic status became more and more of how I outwardly identified myself. In elementary school I can’t remember knowing class differences because most people at my school and in my town were all of the same (working) class. I don’t ever introduce myself saying that I am from the working class, I don’t think most people would state their socioeconomic status, but I say with pride and confidence that I am from Everett. When I changed schools in sixth grade, because the archdiocese of Boston could no longer afford to keep my school open, I began to realize class differences. I thought the kids from the next town over were a little wealthier, even though they were still middle class. I think I began to be embarrassed. When I went to high school, I went to Buckingham Browne and Nichols School, a private school where the ultra rich can send their kids. I think the shock and realization that I am from a true working class community hit me then. In my early high school years I was embarrassed when kids said I was from the “ghetto”. I didn’t think I was, it was home. I would argue with them over it; defend myself, even though inside I felt uneasy. Now, though, I love where I am from. And in a simple discussion with me, it is easy to tell that I have a passion for economic equality.

Being different from the kids I went to school with made me think of who I was and what class my family was a part of. However, I never had to think about being white. I’m not from an all white community. The city I am from is often described as a gateway city to immigrants. Anyone I’ve ever talked to about Everett has described it as diverse. I went to private school for all of high school, first BB&N then Phillips Academy in Andover, Ma. Both schools, like a lot of institutions now, have achieving diversity a goal on campus. But when you walk around either school, you see mostly white faces. I thought about this in class discussions or conversations with my friends but day-to-day I didn’t need to think about how being white affected my life.

As I got older I started to realize what being white meant. My realization that I have benefitted from white privilege set in before Trinity but got clearer here on campus. One of the best activities we did in this seminar was the privilege walk. Some of the questions, paraphrased, were:

Do you feel safe walking around your neighborhood at night? Can you walk by a group without getting catcalled? Was financial aid a factor in your college decision? Can you walk around campus without getting stopped by campus safety?

The privilege walk made us confront parts of our identities that we may not have felt comfortable reveling to our classmates. Although I will discuss where I live and my social and political beliefs, that most likely expose what class I am a part of, it is for me harder to explicitly say that financial aid was a deciding factor in what college I would attend.

The question about campus safety stuck with me too. Students of color were the majority of who stepped forward, responding that they can’t walk around campus without being stopped by campo. At the time I didn’t realize that this question would reoccur often during my first semester at Trinity- who does campus safety stop and who belongs on campus. The next time I would talk about campus safety was during my sophomore interview. I interviewed Malik (pseudonym). We talked a lot about clothing and what that revels about a person’s race and class. Malik explained to me:

I like putting a hat on and put a hood over but that looks mad suspicious though you know what I’m saying? And like I’m already black and shit so I don’t want people to come and people to be like oh he’s causing trouble over here and then I’ll have to pull out my ID and be like oh I go here. (Malik, 11).

Malik continued to tell me that he wears a backpack when he walks around campus to prove that he is a student and belongs on the Trinity campus. Another student of color talked about her experience, feeling that she didn’t belong at Trinity, at the 2015 class walk out. She explained that she had locked herself out of her dorm and was waiting for campus safety to arrive and let her in. A white, male student was exiting the dorm and the girl asked if he would swipe her in. He said that he could not do that for her. Campus safety came and let her into her room and the girl sat and cried, feeling that because of her race her peer would not let her in the dorm.

I’ve never had anyone question if I belonged at Trinity. Although I sometimes feel like an outsider based on my socioeconomic status, I can choose to disclose that when I please. Being born white has awarded me unearned advantages based on my skin color. I’m not saying I haven’t worked to get good grades or to receive the athletic awards I have gotten. But I have realized that living in America, I have had a much easier life because I am white. Last year a girl posted something about bandaids on her Facebook. The typical skin color bandaid blends into MY pale, Irish skin. But that is not every skin color. To some people that might seem simple. But it shows how I have lived under the cloud of white privilege. I know that I will not be harassed based on my race or targeted by police based on my ethnicity. I don’t have to about pulling my ID out to show campo that I go to Trinity. I have never felt that I am not a part of the class of 2019.

Trinity College Class of 2019, Orientation Week
Trinity College Class of 2019, Orientation Week