An Instructor’s Guide to Understanding Privilege

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The following content and linked resources have been curated as a primer for instructors to better understand and attend to the ways privilege operates in the classroom. This resource is broken up into sections: Introduction to Privilege, Why Talking About and Acknowledging Privilege is Difficult, Privilege in the Classroom, and Further Reading on Specific Kinds of Privilege. Potentially unfamiliar vocabulary is in bold text.

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Doing One’s Own Personal Work on Privilege and Oppression

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This guide is intended for instructors who are preparing to implement meaningful inclusivity and diversity work in their classrooms. It is intended as a starting place for instructors to think through their own relationship to and experience of privilege and oppression as a crucial part of the foundational work of inclusive pedagogy. The guide offers reflective questions for instructors to explore and suggestions for appropriate ways and forums to work through the personal challenge of anti-oppressive work.

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Stereotype Threat

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This resource explains stereotype threat (the risk that people who fall into identity groups that are often negatively stereotyped may underperform in evaluative settings such as the classroom, as a result of feeling the pressure of the stereotype), provides a few strategies for counteracting stereotype threat, and directs instructors toward further resources. While stereotype threat can impact student performance in any course, it is particularly prevalent in STEM courses, thus this resource focuses primarily on the context of STEM courses. For a more extensive definition of stereotype threat and how it impacts student performance, visit the Glossary of Education Reform at http://edglossary.org/stereotype-threat/.

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Facilitating Through “Perfectly Logical Explanations”

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This short document from the Commission for Social Justice Educators gives a concise description of strategies of multipartiality in discussion facilitation as a way to challenge dominant narratives that students have internalized and tend to reproduce in the classroom. Unlike impartial facilitation in which the instructor aims to be neutral towards all narratives, multipartial facilitation takes into account how dominant narratives already have significant weight and power in the classroom as the students have internalized the logic and assumptions of these narratives. A multipartial facilitator’s responsibility is to address the weight and power of dominant narratives by inviting participants to analyze the assumptions and limitations of their thinking and encourage the contribution of counternarratives. This is not to be confused with a partial approach where an instructor would advocate for particular perspectives.

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Responding to Common Dialogue Blockers

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This resource is designed to help instructors manage the challenges of difficult classroom dialogue, specifically the way some students block or divert dialogue as a defensive response to perspectives they find uncomfortable or challenging. The “common blockers,” authored by Kelly Obear of the Social Justice Training Institute, are listed below with explanations of how they act to block dialogue and suggested responses that you or your students can use to respond and restore dialogue effectively. The section on “Facilitator Considerations” gives further strategies for instructors to approach difficult classroom conversations.

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Invisible Knapsacks

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This discussion-based activity guides students in understanding privilege as a concept and recognizing the ways their own privileges benefit them and impacts daily life. If you as an instructor need a refresher or introduction to privilege before leading this activity, please review “An Instructor’s Guide to Understanding Privilege.” All other necessary materials are linked as PDF’s below.

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School You, Inc.

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In this activity, students imagine creating a school designed to maintain oppressive norms. Students will consider not only what institutional oppression looks like, but how it is perpetuated as they are encouraged to make their maintenance of oppressive norms subtle and devious. A debriefing discussion after the activity is concluded will encourage students to reflect critically on how the construction of their imagined school relates to real-life institutions and the perpetuation of institutional oppressive norms. The activity can be structured as a large group discussion/activity, a small group discussion/activity with a facilitator assigned to each group, or a small group activity with the entire class debriefing together after the activity is concluded.

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