• Sara Pestana

Privilege Walk

Updated: Mar 24

by Sara Pestana


Introduction


In a “privilege walk” activity, students stand in a straight line across the room and walk forward in response to statements about various privileges, such as,

“If one or both of your parents graduated from college, take one step forward.”

At the end of the activity, those who answered “yes” to more of the questions will be standing toward the front of the room, while those who more frequently answered “no” will be standing toward the back.


The goal of the exercise is to help students recognise how power and privilege affect their lives, even if they are unaware that it is happening.


As Jey Ehrenhalt reflects very well:


"Privilege is, by nature, insidious and invisible. As author David Foster Wallace notes


“The most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities

are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.”

Gaining awareness of unexamined privilege necessitates a deep shift, one that takes place below the level of intellectual learning.


For it to work, students with privilege must become ready to reinvent their perspectives. Neuroscience calls this skill neuroplasticity: the brain’s innate ability to structurally and functionally change with new experiences.


Yet, in the midst of difficult emotions—such as those experienced during privilege walks—perspectives may narrow as students cognitively tighten in response to stress. Therefore, when engaged in such emotionally charged material, it is imperative for participants with privilege to hone a practice of shifting their habitual perspectives."


Important notes:

  • Only for high school students and above.

  • For this activity to work, there must be a feeling of trust among the participants. The teacher or facilitator must be able to read the room and understand how to manage any situation, reaction or emotions.

  • For inexperienced teachers or facilitators, we don't recommend using this activity in an environment that might potentiate violence or other negative consequences.


Goals:

  • Become aware of one’s privileges.

  • To discuss the complicated intersections of privileges and marginalisation in a less confrontational and more reflective way.


Materials:

  • Large room where everyone can walk

  • Privilege Walk Activity Statements

  • Privilege Walk Debrief

  • Microphone or sound amplifying device (if necessary)


Starting


What is privilege?


Depending on students’ developmental levels, teachers can provide the definition and/or have students define what privilege means to them as young people.


Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary (2016) defines privilege as the following:

  • a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favour

  • special enjoyment of a good or exemption from an evil or burden

  • a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud

  • the advantage that wealthy and powerful people have over other people in a society


Instructions:


1. Ask everyone to stand in a horizontal line in the middle of the room.

2. All participants will have their eyes closed until the end of the exercise.

3. As you read a statement or question, the participant will step forward or step back if it applies to them. If anyone feels too uncomfortable to take a step, they have the option to remain still.

*Facilitator should give participants a heads up about the intensity of the exercise that could provoke certain emotions. Ensure them that room is a safe space (mentally and emotionally) for conversations to develop at the end of the activity.



Privilege Walk Activity Statements


Note: You don't need to use all of them.

1. If your primary ethnic identity is [country you're in], take one step forward.

2. If you were ever called names because of your race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

3. If you were ever ashamed or embarrassed of your clothes, house, car, etc., take one step back.

4. If your ancestors came to this country not by choice, take one step back.

5. If you were raised in an area where there was prostitution, drug activity, etc., take one step back.

6. If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behaviour to avoid being judged or ridiculed, take one step back.

7. If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school, take one step forward.

8. If your primary language was not [national language of the country you're in] when you went to school, take one step back.

9. If you were encouraged in your home to read during your childhood, take one step forward.

10. If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to buy food when you were growing up, take one step back.

11. If you were taken to social activities—including art galleries, operas, or plays—by your parents, take one step forward.

12. If one of your parents was unemployed or laid off, not by choice, take one step back.

13. If you attended private school or summer camp, take one step forward.

14. If your family ever had to move because they could not afford the rent, take one step back.

15. If you were told that you were beautiful, smart, and capable by your parents, take one step forward.

16. If you were ever discouraged from academics or jobs because of race, class, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

17. If you were raised in a single-parent household, take one step back.

18. If your family owned the house where you grew up, take one step forward.

19. If you saw members of your race, ethnic group, gender, or sexual orientation portrayed on television in degrading roles, take one step back.

20. If you were ever accepted for something you applied to because of your association with a friend or family member, take one step forward.

21. If you were ever denied an academic or work experience because of your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

22. If you or someone you know has ever been mistrusted or accused of lying, stealing, or cheating without sufficient evidence, take one step back.

23. If you were ever accused of cheating or lying and believe it was due to your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

24. If walking alone at night, you never have to worry about anyone feeling threatened because of your presence, take one step forward.

25. If you had to rely primarily on the school bus for transportation, take one step back.

26. If you had to rely primarily on a teacher, coach, or friend’s family member for a ride home after extracurricular activities, take one step back.

27. If you were ever stopped or questioned by the police and believe it was due to your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

28. If you were ever afraid of violence because of your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

29. If you were generally able to avoid places that were dangerous, take one step forward.

30. If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation, take one step back.

31. If you were ever the victim of violence related to your race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, take one step back.

32. If your parents grew up outside of the [country you're in], take one step back.

33. If your parents grew up in a two-parent household, take one step forward.

34. If your parents told you that you could be anything you wanted to be, take one step forward. 35. If it was assumed from a young age that you would go to college, take one step forward.

36. If no one in your immediate family has ever been addicted to drugs or alcohol, take one step forward.

37. If you went on regular family vacations, take one step forward.

38. If you don’t have to cope with frequent catcalls because of your gender, take one step forward.

39. If you were expected to graduate from a four-year college/university, take one step forward.

40. If there was someone with a master’s degree in your home growing up, take one step forward.

41. If there was someone with a doctorate degree in your home growing up, take one step forward.

42. If you almost always feel comfortable with people knowing your sexual orientation, take one step forward.

43. If you have ever been spoken over because you could not articulate your thoughts fast enough, take one step back.

Privilege Walk Debrief


This is an activity that can generate strong emotions. As emotions are relieved, the debrief will help participants realise that either privileges or marginalisation are integral to who they are.


Instead of casting off either privilege or marginalisation, participants can learn how to reconcile with themselves, and through the utilisation of newfound knowledge of the self, have a better relationship with themselves and others around them.


These questions might help facilitate an interesting conversation. Make

  1. What was the purpose of this exercise?

  2. What did you learn from it?

  3. What were some factors that you have never thought of before?

  4. What happened during the exercise?

  5. If you broke contact with the person beside you, how did you feel in that moment?

  6. What question made you think most? If you could add a question, what would it be?

  7. Were you surprised by anything?

  8. How did it feel to be in the group that took a step forward or a step back?

  9. How did it feel to be in the front or back of the room?

  10. Was there a time when you wanted to be a part of the group moving forward?

  11. What might we draw from this exercise that can help us in our everyday lives?

  12. What do you wish people knew about one of the identities, situations, or disadvantages that caused you to take a step back?

  13. How can your understanding of your privileges or marginalisations improve your existing relationships with yourself and others?

Sources and Resources


Peace Learner - https://peacelearner.org/2016/03/14/privilege-walk-lesson-plan/


Transfer Leadership Institute - https://www.eiu.edu/eiu1111/Privilege%20Walk%20Exercise-%20Transfer%20Leadership%20Institute-%20Week%204.pdf


Experiences Canada - https://experiencescanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Activity-1-EN-Privilege-Walk.pdf


Learn for Justice - https://www.learningforjustice.org/magazine/beyond-the-privilege-walk

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