TIME Education

38 Ways College Students Enjoy ‘Left-Wing Privilege’ on Campus

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Tal Fortgang is a student at Princeton University.

'I can take classes and earn degrees in departments that are designed to line up exactly with my worldview'

Among the great ironies surrounding the state of academia is the continued insistence on hearing more and more “marginalized voices” and increasing “diversity” on campus, as if there is some kind of archaic conservative establishment making that difficult to do.

One would likely be hard-pressed to find a more left-leaning group than college professors and admissions officers, who prioritize pulling marginalized groups out of their marginalization and adding people of diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds to campus conversations.

Yet in their efforts to achieve a more egalitarian conversation, left-wing academics and their students completely ignore (at best) and marginalize (at worst) students and the rare colleague who disagree with them politically.

And therein lies the ultimate irony: The very voices that decry inequality in all its manifestations either accept or turn a blind eye to the stunning dearth of conservative academics and the de facto censorship of right-wing students on overwhelmingly left-wing campuses.

Were it some other group suffering such a marginalization, there is no doubt that the left would be up in arms, crying discrimination and demanding rectification.

Some might even call such a monopoly on prevailing campus orthodoxy a type of “privilege,” defined as an asset “of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to,” to quote Peggy McIntosh, the matriarch of privilege’s modern construction.

While the marginalization of right-wing thinkers on campus in no way compares to the experience of black Americans throughout history, it might behoove left-wingers on college campuses to think about the various privileges from which they benefit simply by being members of the overwhelmingly dominant group in their academic communities.

1. I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my political persuasion most of the time.

2. I can spend my entire college career taking only classes with professors who think exactly as I do.

3. I can take classes and earn degrees in departments that are designed to line up exactly with my worldview.

4. I can be sure that an overwhelming majority of the material I am assigned to read for class will confirm what I already believe.

5. My professors will assume that I already think just like them, and use examples and anecdotes that testify to our philosophical uniformity.

6. I can almost always be sure that my professor will present or corroborate my side of a debate.

7. I will likely never have to make the choice between writing what I believe to be true and writing what I think will get a good grade.

8. If I do not get the grade I was hoping for, I can be sure it had nothing to do with the professor’s antipathy towards the political views I have expressed, or me personally.

9. I do not have to fear tipping my hand about my political views in my schoolwork.

10. I can pursue an English degree out of my love for literature, not put off by the lenses of critical theory that influence the way literary analysis is taught.

11. I can speak up in class without fear of being derided for my politics.

12. I can feel confident that even if I don’t personally speak up for my side of an issue, it will likely cross my classmates’ minds.

13. I can be sure that even if people disagree with me, they will not call me evil or bigoted.

14. I can avoid spending time with people whom I have been taught to disagree with, and who have learned to disagree with me.

15. I can be sure that no one will chalk up my opinions to privilege or lack of empathy.

16. More generally, I can express my views on controversial topics without my motives and character being questioned.

17. If my ideology becomes a source of personal issues, I have ample support available at an institutional level.

18. If I need a role model with whom I agree politically, I can easily find one or more.

19. I can freely use social media to share my politics (not that I should) and I will receive encouragement and support in ‘likes,’ ‘shares,’ and especially in comments.

20. I can be social and go to parties without facing mockery and looks of confusion from those who assume my lifestyle is ascetic and Puritanical.

21. I can act disrespectfully toward figures of authority and remain immune from criticism.

22. I can talk about my politically oriented extra-curricular activities without fear of judgment or derision from my peers.

23. I can describe my summer writing job without censoring the name of the publication or its political leanings.

24. If I am religious, others will assume that my beliefs are a force for good and not an extension of an anachronistic and oppressive legacy of superstition.

25. I can use buzzwords and academic jargon to make my arguments, and they will be accepted as legitimate.

26. I can safely say that the arc of history bends in my direction and anyone who disagrees will be “on the wrong side.”

27. I can write off opinions of those who disagree with me because of their overarching ideology.

28. If I can categorize someone who disagrees with me as “powerful” or “oppressive,” I don’t even have to listen to them to begin with.

29. I can be confident that no one will dismiss the sources of my news and information as biased.

30. I can easily obtain my college’s support for explicitly political events I’d like to organize.

31. I can get “trigger warnings” appended to texts that challenge me or make me feel uncomfortable.

32. I can get commencement speakers, recipients of honorary degrees, and other guests disinvited from my campus if I disagree with them.

33. I can disrupt and disrespect speakers whom I do not wish to hear; I will subsequently be praised for my denial of their freedom to speak.

34. I can monopolize terms like “justice” and claim that they only apply to what I am saying.

35. I can accuse those who disagree with me of “violence.”

36. I can claim that my personal experiences are “invalidated” by those who disagree with me.

37. If I have to follow current events for class, I can be confident that the recommended sources of news will be slanted in my direction.

38. If I find my ideas challenged, I know I always have a “safe space” to retreat to, where people will massage my challenged beliefs and sing me a lullaby of things I’d like to hear.

This article originally appeared on The College Fix.

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TIME Education

Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege

Checking My Privilege: Character as the Basis of Privilege
Eduardo Munoz—Reuters Princeton University campus in New Jersey.

Behind every success, large or small, there is a story, and it isn’t always told by sex or skin color.

There is a phrase that floats around college campuses, Princeton being no exception, that threatens to strike down opinions without regard for their merits, but rather solely on the basis of the person that voiced them. “Check your privilege,” the saying goes, and I have been reprimanded by it several times this year. The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung. “Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.

I do not accuse those who “check” me and my perspective of overt racism, although the phrase, which assumes that simply because I belong to a certain ethnic group I should be judged collectively with it, toes that line. But I do condemn them for diminishing everything I have personally accomplished, all the hard work I have done in my life, and for ascribing all the fruit I reap not to the seeds I sow but to some invisible patron saint of white maleness who places it out for me before I even arrive. Furthermore, I condemn them for casting the equal protection clause, indeed the very idea of a meritocracy, as a myth, and for declaring that we are all governed by invisible forces (some would call them “stigmas” or “societal norms”), that our nation runs on racist and sexist conspiracies. Forget “you didn’t build that;” check your privilege and realize that nothing you have accomplished is real.

But they can’t be telling me that everything I’ve done with my life can be credited to the racist patriarchy holding my hand throughout my years of education and eventually guiding me into Princeton. Even that is too extreme. So to find out what they are saying, I decided to take their advice. I actually went and checked the origins of my privileged existence, to empathize with those whose underdog stories I can’t possibly comprehend. I have unearthed some examples of the privilege with which my family was blessed, and now I think I better understand those who assure me that skin color allowed my family and I to flourish today.

Perhaps it’s the privilege my grandfather and his brother had to flee their home as teenagers when the Nazis invaded Poland, leaving their mother and five younger siblings behind, running and running until they reached a Displaced Persons camp in Siberia, where they would do years of hard labor in the bitter cold until World War II ended. Maybe it was the privilege my grandfather had of taking on the local Rabbi’s work in that DP camp, telling him that the spiritual leader shouldn’t do hard work, but should save his energy to pass Jewish tradition along to those who might survive. Perhaps it was the privilege my great-grandmother and those five great-aunts and uncles I never knew had of being shot into an open grave outside their hometown. Maybe that’s my privilege.

Or maybe it’s the privilege my grandmother had of spending weeks upon weeks on a death march through Polish forests in subzero temperatures, one of just a handful to survive, only to be put in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where she would have died but for the Allied forces who liberated her and helped her regain her health when her weight dwindled to barely 80 pounds.

Perhaps my privilege is that those two resilient individuals came to America with no money and no English, obtained citizenship, learned the language and met each other; that my grandfather started a humble wicker basket business with nothing but long hours, an idea, and an iron will—to paraphrase the man I never met: “I escaped Hitler. Some business troubles are going to ruin me?” Maybe my privilege is that they worked hard enough to raise four children, and to send them to Jewish day school and eventually City College.

Perhaps it was my privilege that my own father worked hard enough in City College to earn a spot at a top graduate school, got a good job, and for 25 years got up well before the crack of dawn, sacrificing precious time he wanted to spend with those he valued most—his wife and kids—to earn that living. I can say with certainty there was no legacy involved in any of his accomplishments. The wicker business just isn’t that influential. Now would you say that we’ve been really privileged? That our success has been gift-wrapped?

That’s the problem with calling someone out for the “privilege” which you assume has defined their narrative. You don’t know what their struggles have been, what they may have gone through to be where they are. Assuming they’ve benefitted from “power systems” or other conspiratorial imaginary institutions denies them credit for all they’ve done, things of which you may not even conceive. You don’t know whose father died defending your freedom. You don’t know whose mother escaped oppression. You don’t know who conquered their demons, or may still be conquering them now.

The truth is, though, that I have been exceptionally privileged in my life, albeit not in the way any detractors would have it.
It has been my distinct privilege that my grandparents came to America. First, that there was a place at all that would take them from the ruins of Europe. And second, that such a place was one where they could legally enter, learn the language, and acclimate to a society that ultimately allowed them to flourish.

It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.

It was my privilege that my grandfather was blessed with resolve and an entrepreneurial spirit, and that he was lucky enough to come to the place where he could realize the dream of giving his children a better life than he had.

But far more important for me than his attributes was the legacy he sought to pass along, which forms the basis of what detractors call my “privilege,” but which actually should be praised as one of altruism and self-sacrifice. Those who came before us suffered for the sake of giving us a better life. When we similarly sacrifice for our descendents by caring for the planet, it’s called “environmentalism,” and is applauded. But when we do it by passing along property and a set of values, it’s called “privilege.” (And when we do it by raising questions about our crippling national debt, we’re called Tea Party radicals.) Such sacrifice of any form shouldn’t be scorned, but admired.

My exploration did yield some results. I recognize that it was my parents’ privilege and now my own that there is such a thing as an American dream which is attainable even for a penniless Jewish immigrant.

I am privileged that values like faith and education were passed along to me. My grandparents played an active role in my parents’ education, and some of my earliest memories included learning the Hebrew alphabet with my Dad. It’s been made clear to me that education begins in the home, and the importance of parents’ involvement with their kids’ education—from mathematics to morality—cannot be overstated. It’s not a matter of white or black, male or female or any other division which we seek, but a matter of the values we pass along, the legacy we leave, that perpetuates “privilege.” And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Behind every success, large or small, there is a story, and it isn’t always told by sex or skin color. My appearance certainly doesn’t tell the whole story, and to assume that it does and that I should apologize for it is insulting. While I haven’t done everything for myself up to this point in my life, someone sacrificed themselves so that I can lead a better life. But that is a legacy I am proud of.

I have checked my privilege. And I apologize for nothing.

Tal Fortgang is a freshman from New Rochelle, NY. He plans to major in either History or Politics. He can be reached at talf@princeton.edu. This piece originally appeared on The Princeton Tory.

MORE: Dear Privileged-at-Princeton: You. Are. Privileged. And Meritocracy Is a Myth.

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