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Privilege Walk

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"The exercise was designed to help students to recognise and unpack different sorts of privilege within society."

Desired outcomes for the activity

This section summarises the knowledge, understanding, or skills that students are expected to acquire by the end of the activity.

The goal of the Privilege Walk was to acknowledge that not everyone is starting their academic career from the same place. The exercise was designed to help students to recognise and unpack different sorts of privilege within society. It was pointed out to students at the start of the activity that we sometimes do not notice our own privilege because it is so ingrained within our culture. This activity was used to start a conversation about privilege, community and Warwick Values and how students could take responsibility as a community for dismantling privilege.

The activity

This section explains how to conduct the activity, and might include a step-by-step description or session plan for the activity.

  • Privilege Walks are not new. This YouTube clip shows one taking place and gives more information.
  • In Warwick Law School we used the idea of an adapted Privilege Walk as an introductory exercise with first-year undergraduate students in a Week One seminar class (around 15 students per class). As a Privilege Walk can be quite revealing in terms of a participant’s personal circumstances and characteristics, we created fictional identities and printed these on to small cards which the seminar tutor gave out to students before the Privilege Walk activity began.
  • The exercise assumes that everyone can step forward and backward. While the disadvantage of having mobility issues is addressed in the assumed identities, if a student really has a mobility issue, they may not be able to take part in the exercise. If this is the case, it might be appropriate for the seminar tutorto acknowledge the issue with the group of students and perhaps ask the student if they would like the tutor to take part in the exercise on that student’s behalf if that is what they would like to do. The student can read out the questions instead.
  • Students were lined up shoulder to shoulder at a starting line and the seminar tutor read out a list of social privileges or disadvantages to the class. After each item on the list was announced, students were asked to either step forward if they (or in our case their fictional identity) had that social privilege or step back if they (or in our case their fictional identity) had that social disadvantage. By the end of the list, the class that had started shoulder to shoulder were dispersed along the length of the classroom.
  • After the Walk, students were invited to talk about how they felt during the activity, the value of the activity and how they felt about the items of the list – did they consider that the items were rightly classified as privileges or disadvantages? Were there other characteristics or circumstances that could or should have been on the list? Is classification of a characteristic or circumstance as a privilege or as a disadvantage as straightforward as that or is it more nuanced?
  • After discussion of the Walk, students were them introduced to the idea of creating a WLS Community Agreement. In small groups, students were asked to draft an agreement, identifying at least three rules. Each group were presented their Agreement to the other small groups. Groups voted on the best three rules and these were then discussed in the context of the Warwick Values.

As a rough guide, the seminar timings split roughly like this:

  • Privilege walk and discussion (15 minutes)
  • Introduce the idea of a WLS Community Agreement
  • Negotiate a WLS Community Agreement in small groups (@6 students) (10 minutes)
    • Identify 3 rules
  • Presentation by each group of the WLS Community Agreement (5 minutes)
  • Vote (5 minutes)
    • on the best 3 rules it contains
  • General discussion on Warwick Values (10 minutes)

Activity resources

This section includes copies of resources used in the activity, and any relevant background research or supplementary reading.

Here is a list of social privileges and disadvantages and fictional identities. These materials were created by Dr Maebh Harding from Warwick Law School and shared with her permission. She is happy for these to be used by others.

Reflection on the experience of planning and/or delivering the activity

This section includes a reflection by the member of staff or student who submitted the activity, on their experience of developing and/or facilitating the activity.

  • What worked well, and what worked not so well?
    • The activity is a good starting point to introduce students to the idea of societal privilege and disadvantage and to discuss what communities can do to address this imbalance in experience. This seminar built on an earlier Week One lecture on values and what it means to be a member of a community.
    • The activity is interactive. Students were energised by moving around the classroom and the small group discussions enabled students to create bonds.
    • The adoption of fictional identities, whilst done with the best motives, did mean that there was a delay as students heard the item on the list called out and then had to check their fictional identity. It also meant students were slightly detached from the privilege and disadvantage, and in part the exercise, as they may be stepping forward or back at times when they had no personal experience, or indeed had a contrary personal experience, of that societal privilege or disadvantage.
    • There were fears that a list of characteristics and circumstances classified so bluntly as societal privileges or disadvantage may construct and reproduce ideas that certain characteristics and circumstances are societal privileges and disadvantages without opening up space to challenge this. Some tutors found the discussion of the Walk was as helpful as the Walk itself.
  • What challenges did you face?
    • Seminar classrooms are not usually designed with enough space for this activity. Where furniture was moveable, groups generally had enough space. Some groups moved to a corridor or outdoor space.
  • How might you change the activity in future instances?
    • Post-COVID the idea of students standing shoulder to shoulder and moving in a confined space is clearly not possible but this opens up opportunities to run the activity as an online, anonymous activity where students can use their own identities. Alternatively, running the film clip and discussing the activity will enable students to challenge the classifications of societal privilege and disadvantage, and to volunteer their own experiences in a manner they can control.

Another activity that has a similar idea is ‘Step into the Circle’ which has been used by my colleague Carolina at another institution in the US. See a video example here and a list of characteristics she used here. One advantage is participants step forward for items of disadvantage and so those in the circle who suffer disadvantage move closer to each other, whereas with the Privilege Walk as usually conceived, participants with disadvantage literally get left behind.

Contacts

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