Nick Sparkman, ’17, School of Engineering
“So… what are you?” This question, asked by a white student, was posed to a person in my house who identifies as biracial. I watched my friend hesitantly fielding the question. I cannot truly understand what he felt as he was (under social pressure) forced to explain his racial identity to someone just because that person was curious. Moments like this make me realize that I have a huge privilege, or advantage. As an obviously white person, my race is easily accepted in social scenarios at Vanderbilt, and I am never asked to explain it to someone.
Vanderbilt is in the midst of a lot of discussions surrounding privilege; what it is, how it influences our experiences, and so on. It is critical to understand privilege in order to understand and participate fully in these discussions.
Here’s my advice: don’t be angry if someone attempts to explain to you that you have a privilege. If you’re a straight person, I may explain my experiences as a gay person to you in terms of your privilege. If straight, you can confidently walk with a significant other in public without having to evaluate the probability that you will be the target of undue scrutiny or hatred for doing so. If you rarely wonder what it would be like to be a gay person, you may not realize your own relative comfort due to your privilege. No one is bad for having privilege, and I don’t deny any of your struggles just because you have privilege.
Educate yourself on the topic of privilege, and dive into the discussions happening around you. I can promise you that your experience here will be richer for having done so.