Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity: Our Time with Peggy McIntosh

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Distinguished writer, scholar and founder of the National SEED Project, Dr. Peggy McIntosh met with more than 200 people in gatherings and workshops to teach and discuss her ideas on educational equity and diversity during a two-day Valencia residency held October 24 – 25, 2013.

Dr. McIntosh led a three-hour workshop for 85 students addressing feelings of fraudulence and systems of privilege and unearned disadvantage; a roundtable discussion with 26 students, faculty, staff and administrators on areas of privilege at the College; and a workshop for 42 faculty based on her working paper, “Interactive Phases of Curricular and Personal Re-Vision.” Participants at each workshop were given two of her articles: “White Privilege: An Account to Spend,” as well as “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” among other readings.

The workshops offered ways of thinking about unearned advantage and disadvantage and systems of privilege and oppression that often go unnoticed in society. For some, this was a new way of thinking about the world around us, and for others, a welcomed conversation about systems of privilege and oppression within our society.

Time with Dr. McIntosh offered students, faculty and staff an opportunity to practice what she titled, “Serial Testimony,” a technique that involves a facilitator posing a question, followed by the opportunity for each participant to speak without reaction from other group members. The group reflected on and shared how systems of earned advantage and unearned disadvantage have played out in our individual lives. Discussions also explored to what extent unearned advantage still affects people at the College, challenging the myth of meritocracy within our culture.  The myth of meritocracy is the concept that using your talents and skills and working hard guarantees you success without regard to race, where you grew up or how much money you have.

Students responded in a multitude of ways; some challenged this new way of seeing the world, while others felt the conversation was a breath of fresh air. One student stated:

Dr. McIntosh’s workshop was very entertaining and insightful. It put into words many concepts which had been rattling around in my mind for years. The first of which is that I am not nearly as objective and free from intrinsic assumptions as I would have myself believe. Despite my sincere efforts, it is difficult to completely free myself from prejudgment. Also, I gained a greater appreciation for the societal divisions in our civilization that can drastically affect our position economically, professionally and academically. Specifically, those advantages that come from being born a middle class white male. Finally, I learned that everybody can and has felt excluded at some point in our lives and probably will be again. I think as a (future) educator, one of the best things that I could do to implement some of these practices in the classroom would be to try to get people to be honest and open about their own personal assumptions so they can be examined in a safe, judgment-free environment.

Another student responded to the question, how might Valencia lessen areas of privilege?

Finally, I learned that making a difference in your school is a lot easier than you might think, especially when your school asks you as a student what could be improved.

Faculty members explored Dr. McIntosh’s working paper, “Interactive Phases of Curricular and Personal Re-Vision,” which encourages teachers to explore an increasingly multicultural and inclusive pedagogy, so that all people and all voices are mirrored the classroom.

Her final evening at the College was spent with the new SEED Seminar cohort, a group of colleagues from throughout the college participating in a year-long SEED Seminar experience. SEED, which stands for Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity, seeks to create gender-fair, multicultural-equitable and globally informed educational spaces and workplaces.

As the Peace and Justice Initiative tries to fulfill its value, “All People, All Voices, All Matter,” the work of Dr. McIntosh began a conversation challenging participants to explore how we might use unearned advantage to weaken the system of privilege.

A special thanks to the College-wide Student Development Office, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the Teaching and Learning Academy and the 2013-2014 Tupperware Corporation Chair in Community Quality, awarded to Michele Lima, professor of speech for making these events possible.

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