April 24, 2008 — Have you always had health insurance?
Did your family expect you to go to college?
Have you ever worried about paying tuition?
Did your family have more than 10 books in the house while you were growing up?
Have you ever been afraid of getting raped?
Can you be rude, make a mistake or drive carelessly without someone attributing it to your gender or race?
Are you ever asked to speak for all the people of your racial group?
These are the kinds of questions asked of a group participating in the exercise called a "Privilege Walk." Depending on how participants answer, they are directed to "walk" to one area or another. The exercise is intended to show social and economic inequalities that make some people privileged compared to others in our society. In promoting awareness about varying experiences, the exercise can lead to dialogue and better understanding among different groups.
Members of the University of Virginia community are invited to take part in a "Privilege Walk" this Friday, April 25 from noon to 2 p.m. in the McIntire Amphitheater.
Sponsored by the African-American student group, Project R.I.S.E., the Privilege Walk is an activity commonly used in diversity training that has received much positive feedback. A group lines up, and individuals move forward or back as a facilitator asks questions or makes statements about aspects of identity and experience. The movements of the line reveal subtle differences, making them visual and life-size.
Afterward, participants talk about the experience and personal stories that symbolize how race, class, gender and ability affect the opportunities of individuals in the group.
Warrenetta Mann, multicultural coordinator at U.Va.'s Counseling and Psychological Services, is a faculty adviser to the group. "It is both an experiential and visual affirmation of our range of diversity as a larger group," Mann said.
Although student-driven, the event will be led by facilitators Kelli Palmer, assistant to U.Va. President John T. Casteen III; William Anderson, a staff psychologist with the University's Counseling and Psychological Services; and Vicki Hawes, manager of off-Grounds housing and staff member of the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life.
Project R.I.S.E. — Resolving Issues through Support and Education — was established last year by the Office of African-American Affairs, the Dean of Students Office and the Harrison Bowne "Tersh" Smith Jr. Memorial Center for Counseling and Psychological Services. It was created to serve African-American students coping with issues stemming from academic, personal and social circumstances. Specifically, Project R.I.S.E.'s mission, as described on its Web site, www.virginia.edu/oaaa/rise.htm, is to create a system of consistent support and motivation to effectively manage and overcome feelings of alienation, especially regarding depression among African-American students in the U.Va. community.
"Our goal was to begin conversation about mental health issues in an effort to de-stigmatize [them]," said Krystal Commons, co-founder of Project R.I.S.E. She and fellow student Reggie White started the group last year to be a confidential outlet for and to advise African-American students about getting help for those issues.
Supporting the work of Project R.I.S.E. by facilitating the exercise is important to Palmer.
"This group of peer counselors has taken on an ambitious agenda in their first 18 months of existence, and I would like to see their good work continue," Palmer said.
"The Privilege Walk allows students to have both personal and observational experiences with privilege. … Others should participate in the Privilege Walk because the experience will foster learning about self and others with time for processing the new information. Plus, it will be fun!"