Andover Students Reflect on Personal Experiences with Privilege

Following recent discussions on campus about issues of privilege, students packed into the Underwood Room on Wednesday evening to participate in a discussion-based forum hosted by CAMD, Out of the Blue, Feminism is Equality and More Than Just a Number. The discussion centered around topics of privilege, including privilege of ability, race, gender, sexual orientation, class and many others.

Five student panelists were invited to speak about their experiences with privilege: Malina Simard-Halm ’14, Robert Rush ’14, Kailash Sundaram ’15, Kayla Thompson ’15 and Emma Kukielski ’15 all shared stories about their connections with privilege, each bringing a different perspective to the conversation.

Each panelist was given the opportunity to speak briefly about what privilege means to them and what kinds of privilege they either have or do not have.

Kukielski discussed the idea that, as a white woman, she was the only member of the panel who had personally experienced the benefit of white privilege, or the societal institutional benefits white people have because of the color of their skin.

“That’s one of the things about privilege. It’s something that, as a person of privilege, you don’t need to think about. You accept it as a part of your daily life, and that’s why we’re here today. Because it’s something that needs to be confronted,” said Kukielski.

Kukielski first understood her white privilege when she realized that she lacked privilege as a woman.

She said, “It was clear then that some people do experience inherent privilege. For example, I can’t walk down the street at night and feel completely safe, no matter where I am.”

Rush spoke about how his privilege of attending Andover, a prestigious school, saved him from a situation of being treated very differently because of the color of his skin. When a police officer in a New York subway station stopped Rush on his way to catch the subway, the officer’s opinion of Rush shifted when Rush informed the officer of his education, Rush said.

“Being in this position and seeing how he looked at me after he realized what school I go to… The potential that I may have to change things in this world, the potential I may have to be something other than the expectation he had of me made him let me go. Not the fact that I was a human being,” said Rush.

Simard-Halm addressed the issue of not having the privilege of being able to be a part of a family that is socially accepted everywhere and having to deal with hatred and discrimination because of her family. Simard-Halm has two gay fathers.

Simard-Halm talked about her childhood as one of the first children born through assisted reproduction to gay parents and her experience in different communities as she dealt with hostility towards her fathers and her family.

“I oftentimes felt torn between sharing one of the most important parts of my life, my family, and being a part of the community that I wanted to be,” said Simard-Halm.

She continued, “I remember moving to New Mexico from Los Angeles… I remember not telling anyone about my parents for three whole months. In fact, I lied about my parents. I said one of my dads was my uncle because I thought that I would be ostracized.”

Sundaram focused on the concept that, despite having been born and having grown up in the United States, he is oftentimes considered un-American because the way he looks does not fit the American ideal in a country that is considered to be diverse.

“I was at the airport with my family… The pilots come over, and I start a conversation with them. The pilot’s about to go, and then he says, ‘Enjoy your stay in America.’ For me, that definitely felt like he thought I was foreigner in the country that I call home,” said Sundaram.

Thompson also spoke about the implications of an intentionally diverse community. When she first arrived at Andover, she surrounded herself with friends of similar backgrounds.

“Intentionally diverse communities mean absolutely nothing unless you make them mean something. I didn’t get the experience of interacting with people who I didn’t interact with growing up because I didn’t let myself,” she said.

Moderators from More Than Just a Number and Out of the Blue, including Dan Wang ’14, Thea Rossman ’15, Alex Thomas ’15 and Jaleel Williams ’15, kicked off the forum with statements posed to the audience about different kinds of privilege they may have encountered in their lives.

After panelists spoke, the attendees broke up into smaller groups to discuss privilege. Many shared personal stories about their experiences with privilege in its many forms.