- 05/13/2014 by Prachi Gupta (Salon)

Tal Fortgang, author of "Why I'll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege," published in Time Magazine in early May. (Credit: Fox News)
If Tal Fortgang, the Princeton freshman who refused to check his white privilege, ever wants to go to Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he’ll have to change his tune significantly — or at least spend some time seriously evaluating it, thanks to a new orientation class requirement.

New York Magazine’s the Cut reports that “in response to growing demand from student activists, administrators committed Friday to adding a class in power and privilege to its orientation program for incoming first-year students.”

Reetu Mody, a first year masters student in public policy, organized the movement that eventually led to the training requirement (which is so far unnamed). Mody recently told the Crimson that she started HKS Speaks Out in response to the disappointment that her courses “didn’t really address race at all” when examining policy issues. The group’s first session attracted about 80 students last fall, and a recent petition attracted more than 300 signatures — about a fourth of the school’s student population — to push the administration to offer “mandatory privilege and power training.”

A recent 80-person demonstration, which attempted to illustrate the invisible but omnipresent power advantages that people of dominant races, classes, sexual orientations, or genders benefit from, drew positive attention and constructive dialogue with the school’s administration.

“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,” Mody told the Cut.

“If you don’t have an understanding of sociology, political science, critical race theory, feminist critique and revisionist history,” Mody explained, “it’s going to be very difficult to talk about certain groups’ experiences, and why these other groups continually have this advantage in society.”

Though Mody has been critical of her institution, she also has empathy for students who might only be realizing their privilege for the first time. “If what you’ve been told all your life is you’re really talented and you deserve what you have, it’s going to be really hard to find out ’Maybe I don’t deserve it, and all these other people equally deserve it but never even had a shot,’” she said. “Schools are not giving students a space to manage that loss of identity.”

The training will give students with privilege a chance to gain some self-awareness that may have eluded them so far — let’s hope they take it seriously. The true checking of privilege, of course, will happen when these debates are shifted beyond a singular class and affect all of the discussions.

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