CSU unpacks privilege

Feb 232011
Authors: Allison Knaus

What’s in your backpack?

For some it’s just a pile of textbooks, but for Toni Zimmerman it contains the contents of a personal identity.

A “My favorite lecture series” event put on by The Institute of Learning and Teaching (TILT) featured Zimmerman, professor and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program, who spoke about the lack of conscious awareness of privilege in our society and how people often take on stereotypes and misconceptions.

“The process of examining privilege is imperative and relevant to all of us,” said Zimmerman on Wednesday afternoon to an audience of CSU students and faculty.

Zimmerman, named a University Distinguished Teaching Scholar in 2009, unpacked what she said is the reality that often individuals neglect to acknowledge that stereotypes and privilege exist and affect views of other people. Everyone looks the same, she said, because everyone wears a “backpack,” but it’s the contents of the backpack that sets individuals apart.

“The goal is to make the invisible visible,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman hardly presented a lecture. Audience members were encouraged to participate and speak on behalf of personal privilege experiences.

“I felt connected and at peace with the people around me, I realized that other people struggle too,” said sophomore biochemistry major, Taylre Malloy.

During an activity with the audience, Zimmerman asked volunteers to answer questions determining their level of privilege.

“Set your guilt and shame aside, our backpacks showed up attached to us and we can’t let go of them,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman asked volunteers from the audience, who began holding hands, a series of privilege-based questions. For example, Zimmerman asked participants who could put up a picture of their spouse in a work area without feeling uncomfortable to step forward. With each question the line morphed and spread throughout the auditorium.

“When you struggle, it makes you appreciate it more. I don’t consider it a disadvantage,” Malloy said.

Heather Landers, director of learning programs for TILT said Zimmerman provided a breath of fresh air from the usual science-related discussions sponsored by TILT.

“It was something new, and I loved how engaged the audience was,” Landers said.

Though Zimmerman discussed the lack of awareness of privilege in society, she also stressed the importance of being proud of what students represent.

“Be mindful of who you are and celebrate all the demographics you represent,” Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman left the audience with a positive message about accepting differences and realizing the importance of privilege awareness.

“It’s important to recognize that we didn’t create a problem, we benefit from it in very invisible ways,” Zimmerman said.

Staff writer Allison Knaus can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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