Sunday, February 26, 2012

Is Centre College a Privilege?

We are studying the concept of privilege in my "Social Structure" class.  I had them make an inventory of their own privileges and disprivileges, and analyze how that affected their lives.

As sociologists think of privilege, it means an unearned advantage, such as whiteness or maleness.  Privilege is contrasted with an earned advantage.

However, some of the students drew their understanding of privilege from a different discourse, more political science than sociology.  They contrasted privileges with rights.

Thus, the question of whether attending an elite college, such as Centre, is a privilege or not proved doubly tricky. 

Attending Centre is clearly not a right, so the second group thought it must be a privilege.  But attending Centre requires some work to earn a place, no matter how many unearned advantages you had helping you.  For the first group, attending Centre was not a privilege, even if various privileges helped improve their odds of admission.

Taking a longer view, though, once they graduate from Centre, they will benefit from some unearned expectations that other people have about how well educated they now are, independent of their personal achievement. 

So getting in to Centre is, I think, mostly not a privilege.  But successfully getting out again partly is.

1 comment:

Adriana said...

I have lots of thoughts on privilege that I'll save for a coffee chat another time. But, I definitely think Centre has equipped me with privilege, some unearned. Despite being an average student while I was there, my Centre pedigree earned me my first job as a Spanish teacher. I was never interviewed in Spanish, nor assessed to see what my proficiency was - rather, the man who ended up being my superintendent trusted my abilities based solely on the fact that I'd graduated from Centre. I can't be the only one with a similar experience, at least within the state of Kentucky.