Harvard University Freshmen To Be Forced To Undergo ‘Check Your Privilege’ Training

by Jennifer Kabbany - Fix Editor on May 14, 2014

Starting this fall, incoming students at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government may be mandated to check their privilege at freshmen orientation, a student group has announced.

“The administration has officially expressed its desire to collaborate with us on designing a privilege training component for orientation week for every HKS degree program,” the student group that lobbied for the effort, Harvard Kennedy School Speaks Out, states on its Tumblr page.

The “power and privilege training” is expected to cover “components of race, gender, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, ability, religion, international status, and power differentials for every incoming HKS student starting August 2014,” the group states on its website.

The new training comes about as the result of the Harvard Kennedy School Speaks Out’s lobbying effort, which launched this school year and was prompted by what some students described as negative classroom experiences.

Their main gripe was that classes didn’t address race when considering policy issues, the Crimson campus newspaper reports.

With that, the group’s members “decided that students and faculty needed to have a better understanding of ‘race, gender, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, ability, religion, international status, and power differentials,’ prior to entering classroom discussions, according to the movement’s open letter to the Kennedy School community,” the Crimson reports.

The group’s Tumblr page notes that the exact curriculum has yet to be decided, nor has funding officially been approved.

“We will be putting together a committee of students who will liaise with the administration over the summer to design the training,” the website states.

In addition to holding “moments of solidarity” and “check your privilege” workshops recently as part of the campaign that led up to this recent decision, the HKS Speaks Out group had also penned an open letter to administrators which stated that “shortly after arriving, we noticed holes within the HKS core curriculum that stymied our education.”

“We could not grapple with hard questions about the role of government, the impact of a particular social welfare program, or the root cause of poverty,” the letter stated. “To consider these questions, we needed the additional benefit of interdisciplinary frameworks from fields like sociology, gender studies, and ethnic studies. Without understanding the socio-historical context in which policy is made, we cannot analyze the disparate ways various groups are affected by public policy, nor can we determine the best path forward.”

One of the students who pushed for the mandate championed the development as vital for incoming freshmen at the Ivy League institution.

“We’re at one of the most powerful institutions in the world, yet we never critically examine power and privilege and what it means to have access to this power,” student Reetu Mody told New York Magazine, which first reported the news. 

“The substance of the training, while still under discussion, is to prepare students to understand the broad impact of identity on their decision-making and to engage them in constructive tools for dialogue,” Mody said.

Harvard Kennedy School officials have yet to put out an official statement on the training, according to a search of its website Tuesday night.

Jennifer Kabbany is associate editor of The College Fix. ( @JenniferKabbany )

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IMAGE: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

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