It might have been shock. It might have been sympathy. It might have been a wake-up call. Whatever it was, senior Jack Hilton was not the same after his service trip to Tijuana over spring break.
Hilton’s service trip made him aware of privilege. This affected him deeply enough to want to take some sort of action in raising more awareness.
Since Hilton is also a Resident Assistant in Seattle U’s Xavier House, he took his first actions at a staff meeting by proposing a program that would make people more aware of the privileges they have and might take for granted.
Resident Director Deanne Liu, who was on the same trip as Hilton, thought it was a great idea.
And so, the first ever Privilege Week was formed.
In an email Liu sent out on Privilege Week, Liu said, “The purpose of Privilege Week is to discuss ways in which we might have privilege as a person living in our social, ecological and global context.”
From April 15 to 19, Xavier RAs led events and activities that they encouraged students to participate in.
According to senior Carlos Reyes, a Xavier House RA, Liu was a graduate student at Seattle U who really connected with the Jesuit values of justice and commitment to diversity.
“I think [Liu] just wanted to open people’s minds a bit more,” Reyes said.
The first activity of the week was led by sophomore Xavier RA Alexandra Stoffel. She called it the Privilege String Activity.
“I read off a bunch of statements and if you have that kind of privilege, you tie a knot and you can wear it around your wrist and see how privileged you are or just really feel the weight of where you might not be privileged in some areas, you still have privileges in others,” said Stoffel.
Stoffel’s aim was to show students that they are not apart of just one community, but many in different ways.
Stoffel was pleased with the reactions from the students who participated.
“I think a lot of people understood or were starting to understand where they fit into those categories with the privilege string. It was kind of intense actually,” Stoffel said. “It was really cool. It’s not like an easy subject to talk about, so I like it to be more serious than fun I guess and that’s kind of what happened and that’s good because people got to just realize what kind of privileges they have and what they don’t have to think about.”
Other activities of the week included Hilton giving a talk about his experience in Tijuana and cultural privileges, a documentary viewing of “No Impact Man” on sustainability privilege, and taking students to the Seattle U Drag Show at the week’s end.
This week-long event, though open to the whole school, was more targeted towards the Xavier House residents and they were encouraged to participate.
“Just by being here, you’re kind of involved because you have to think about the different ways that we are privileged because being at Seattle University is such a privilege,” said freshman Alyssa Lund.
“Even if you don’t attend the events, all the posters and all the different ways in which our RA’s are involving us have at least opened my eyes to all the privilege we do have,” said Lund.
Throughout the week, junior Elizabeth O’Lenic, a Xavier House desk assistant, would help encouraging residents to participate by reminding them of the activity that would go on that night.
“Some of them are really open to being like ‘Oh I want to go learn about this, I’ve never thought much about privilege’ and then for a lot of other ones, it’s really uncomfortable for them and I think it’s because they never really acknowledged their privilege. That was actually a great check for me too,” said O’Lenic.
Getting students interested and involved was a challenge the RAs faced.
However, all agreed that this event is important for the students and the school and hoped students could take away something valuable from the experiences of Privilege Week.
“It’s something that the whole school should consider doing because it’s a very important part of just being—being a human, being in this world, being in America. I think it’s an important part of being someone who is able to go to college is to realize how privileged we are in gaining knowledge and opportunity,” Lund said.
O’Lenic shared similar thoughts.
“I like that it’s taking in the outside and self-reflecting. I think that’s really important for people,” O’Lenic said.
Bianca may be reached at [email protected]