Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sick Privilege at Duke

Caitlin Flanagan has a very sad essay in the Atlantic, "The Hazards of Duke." She follows a pathetic young woman who, as a fake "senior thesis" prior to her graduation from that university last spring, sent out a slide show rating all of her drunken, violent sexual experiences with Duke athletes.

This combination of arrogant, sexually exploitative men and needy, self-destructive women can be found at any college. It is the standard stuff of the guaranteed-to-horrify-parents websites, such as Texts From Last Night and TotalFratMove. Flanagan thinks Duke collects, even glorifies, this bad combination more than other schools do. I cannot comment on that.

I did find this essay helpful in thinking about what is wrong with privilege. Privilege as a social structure is not something that privileged individuals can simply overcome or wish away. But when privileged people do not realize their privilege, but instead believe themselves to have earned and be entitled to all of their advantages, then the social sickness grows. And few people are most privileged than moneyed, white, male, athletes at elite schools who have women begging them for sexual exploitation.

Can anyone add to this list? I think it is helpful to define the pole of privilege, to start dealing with it with curiosity, gratitude, and humility.


Brendan said...

Texts From Last Night is fascinating.

I'm not sure what you mean by "this list"--the list of reasons behind this kind of behavior, the list of what is wrong with privilege, or...?

Gruntled said...

Sorry, I was not clear. The list of characteristics of the maximally privileged.

Anonymous said...

I am puzzled by the adjective "white" in your sentence about priveleged people.

How about this: Few people are more privileged than moneyed, black, male, athletes who have women begging them for sexual exploitation.

Anonymous said...

As someone who belonged to a sorority at a large, prestigious university (albeit nearly 20 years ago), I think the fact that this woman didn't belong to a sorority or similar group actually made her more vulnerable.

When we lived in your area, I was an adult adviser for one of the sororities at Centre. A pattern of behavior like this young women exhibited would have been remarked upon and ACTED upon by her sorority sisters. Peer pressure is not always a negative force.

Whit said...

Honestly Gruntled, I don't understand this whole privilege thing.

It seems to me to be a way to avoid/negate what I think are two fundamental, and related, principles of American culture, (1) that all men, and women, are created equal before God and should be treated as such before the law, and (2)that each individual should be judged as an individual without regard to any group to which he or she belongs.

It also seems to me to be a way to justify group demonization/blame against persons belonging to "privileged" groups and special, more favorable, treatment of persons belonging to groups deemed to be "victims". In effect the whole concept of privilege leads one to judge some persons as oppressors and some as victims based solely on skin color.

Hey, assuming what this woman wrote is true (and that you have properly summarized it), these folks certainly behaved badly, that does not prove that other white athletes at other schools behaved badly. And of course you should not forget that Duke athletes were unfairly accused before. Further, as Anonymous noted, in this context race does not seem to have much relevance (see, for example, the NBA).

Lastly, it seems to me a way to avoid individual responsibility. If the allegations are true, it is the responsibility of the guilty athletes at Duke, not that of other white athletes at, say, Northwestern. Under privilege, if you are successful, it was because of privilege, not hard work, so why work hard? And if you fail, it's not your fault, so again, why work hard?

But who are the maximally privileged? I don't know about maximal, but I do know that while summer internships at the biggest law firms are very hard to come by in this economy, even for white, male law students at the top of their classes, minority women of equal or lesser academic ability are snapping them up. So who are the privileged?

Anonymous said...

Sociologists see groups not individuals. It's how they are trained. That seems unfair to me an individual.

Kerri said...

Sociologists see individuals as members of a group, and look for (and try to understand) the patterns of behavior that emerge.