The results are in. The activity? It worked. It wasn’t the amazing, inspirational, groundbreakingly powerful moment I had imagined, but it went well. A few students had done similar activities before, but nothing that asked them to physically move in space. One student said she did a variation where she had to add and subtract based on statements to come up with her “number.”
But this visual/spacial rendering of privilege worked well and was a new experience for all of us. The immediate post-activity conversation was sparse, and only a few students participated in this. Considering that I just asked them to be vulnerable in doing the activity, I wasn’t going to push my luck by forcing a deeper group reflection. However, the discussion that followed examining some of the issues surrounding service and service learning was engaged, fluid, and had a majority of students contributing their thoughts and reactions. So while the personal reflection on privilege wasn’t as robust as I would have liked, the activity totally succeeded in opening up a conversation around the sticky terminology I mentioned last post. So in terms of the larger goals, I’m feeling fairly satisfied in how it went.
There were a few surprises along the way. First, I was genuinely surprised that most of my students ended up clustered in the same general “privilege space” (for lack of a better way to describe it). It’s hard to tell exact positions because of conditions in the room, but if I had to guess, most students ended up like 4-6 steps forward of the starting line. I had students fill out getting to know you surveys for homework the first night of class. According to that survey, 15 languages other than English are collectively spoken at home. Students have come from other countries or are first generation Americans. Given this, I expected a little more spread, especially considering some of the US centric items on the list of statements (for example, “If you’re a US citizen, take a step forward”). I think this was a good realization for my students, as well as myself, since we can use this activity to springboard a conversation about how we can use our privileged positions to empower others. Second, I was preparing myself (mentally, emotionally, pedagogically) for students to end up behind the starting line at the end of the activity. When I calculated my space prior to leading the activity, I ended up back on the starting line (which, to be honest, was a little surprising for me. I figured I would be maybe 2 or 3 steps forward). It feels good to say no one ended up behind the starting line. More so, when I took my spot among the group at the end of the activity, only one student was in my vicinity (either on the starting line or a step ahead – again, hard to tell in the space), and we shared a similar reaction afterward: feeling more privileged in our lives than the activity mapped out.
Ultimately, I’m happy I decided to do the activity. The reaction may not have been ka-pow, but I think it set a tone that this class is going to grapple with difficult subject matter.