What is privilege?
Thacher students defined privilege as “having abundant opportunities that few have easy access to,” “when one person has more opportunities than another,” and “the ability to seek opportunities otherwise denied to the less fortunate.” The community’s consensus was clear: privilege is opportunity.
This opportunity manifests itself in several ways. One of them is socioeconomic opportunity.
Age old wisdom suggests that a good education is the secret to unlocking this opportunity, but, unfortunately, not everyone has the chance to get a good education. At prestigious, Ivy League universities, teachers have noticed that most students come from significant wealth. At Thacher, a distinguished boarding school whose college matriculation list can easily impress, ¾ of the student body pays a tuition significantly higher (especially after taxes) than what most American households make in a year.
To its students, Thacher should exemplify the incessant cycle of wealth begetting wealth; the privilege of wealth gives one the opportunity to earn it.
Faculty members at Thacher were very aware of how privilege can earn someone wealth as an adult. One member of the science department remarked this was especially visible with gender. “Men get paid more,” he said, uneasily.
Several people the Notes interviewed were also cognizant of the doors unlocked by being born white. One junior claimed that it can be very hard for students of color at prestigious schools because they frequently “feel like they don’t fit in” with the majority white student body. She noted that white students, who have never had their hair be a source of fascination or have never experienced harassment from the police, cannot truly empathize with students of color. In addition, one teacher alleged that many private schools’ low percentage of students of color strongly emphasizes racial disparities. “So,” he said, “when you go in and see… it’s kind of in your face that this is a minority group. It’s like [white people] control everything. Who controls the economy, who controls what you’re allowed and not allowed to do.”
In addition, he drew on personal experience to explain how privilege gives people second chances in general. He said that “I had one option [in education], and if I screwed up that option… I was done. The game was over… [people of privilege] worry about their decisions… but they are not life changing.”
One of the questions in a survey sent to the students attempted to determine what gave the most privilege. The answers were distributed:
It is no surprise that one student defined privilege as “race and $$.”
When the survey asked about how to determine merit, students responded with statements like, “most of the time it is blatantly obvious” and “generally, it becomes clear very quickly if someone has worked for what they have.” A majority clearly thought it was not hard to determine.
Perhaps this is why some say that privileged kids go to astounding lengths for recognition; as one junior said, if you are privileged, no one is going to respect you because you have just been “given it all.” One teacher hypothesized that this lack of respect (real or perceived) was responsible for many of the rich kids he knew in his childhood downplaying their wealth.
Which leads to the last question: does privilege inhibit people from having real problems? Thacher students, generally, disagree.
Privileged kids’ problems might not be the ones that come from poverty or prejudice, but “mental illnesses can affect anyone,” as one respondent said. Even the most privileged can be affected, as one student solemnly noted “a popular kid can still get depressed, a rich kid can get depressed.”
Chillingly, a third noted, “my being the daughter of a millionaire does not keep me from being a rape victim as well.”
However, it is important to take to heart the words of another student: “they can [have real problems], doesn’t mean they do. Most of the people here complain about ‘not good food in the dining hall,’ when there are so many options and the quality is better than nearly any other school.”