Augusta University “privilege walk” offers unique approach to overcoming societal issues

Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017
(News 12 NBC 26 News At 11)

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) — It’s a different kind of lesson Augusta University students are learning – a lesson about privilege.

Students and faculty gathered at the Summerville campus to have a privilege walk, a new kind of way to learn about what issues parts of society faced and the differences they saw growing up compared to other parts of society.

It’s a unique and relatively new way of looking at the issue and other controversial things people deal with on a daily basis, while also providing a new way to look at controversial issues like racism and sexism.

With just one step, Augusta University students are getting a new perspective.

“If you were never ashamed of your clothes, house, car, take a step back,” the announcer asked. “If you went to a private school or attended summer camp, take a step forward. If you saw members of your own race, ethnic group, gender or sexual orientation positively portrayed on television, take one step forward.”

Slowly, the divide grew as audience members took steps forward while others stayed near the back of the room. It’s called a privilege walk and makes those who’ve grown up with advantages to stand next to those who can’t say the same.

“If you were ever called names because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take a step back,” asked the announcer. “If you ever had to skip a meal because there was not enough money for food growing up, take a step back. If you were ever stopped or questioned by the police because of your race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, take one step back.”

It’s part of a new wave of teaching younger students about accepting where they’ve come from in life and addressing issues like racism, sexism and homophobia. Issues Andrew Kemp says people are tired of talking about and not addressing.

“Most white people will say things like, ‘I’m not racist, I’m not sexist, I’m not homophobic, but no I’m not going to do anything about it either.’ It allows people to put up this buffer,” Kemp says, “so they don’t have to deal with the situation and they don’t have to give up anything of themselves.”

But by showing the difficulties people grew up with and overcame, it allows a better understanding that no upbringing is perfect. Augusta University sophomore Devon Hill says he takes comfort in seeing other people at the back of the room next to him after learning about their life challenges.

“If someone wants to help me out or if I want to help someone out, where you come from or how you were raised should not be an issue. Everyone has problems,” Hill says. “Regardless of what walk of life, it does not matter what color you are, how rich you are, we all have problems. And it would mean just as much to me, if not more, to get that help but it takes that selflessness to want to help.”

Hill says this kind of exercise is not meant to bring sympathy to anyone in attendance, but to bring an empathy and understanding to those that surround you in your everyday life. He says feeling sorry for someone doesn’t make the situation better, but offering help out of the kindness of your heart does.

“You have to be able to take a logical, open-minded approach and open perspective to certain things” Hill says. “And that’s how you build empathy, that’s how you fix and mend relationships.”

Kemp says pushing people outside their comfort zones and taking a long look at what normally pulls people apart is the best way to approach and overcome modern society issues. Even when the divide seems black and white, Kemp says exercises like this will only bring unity. One slow step at a time.

“People need to do a bit of self-exploration to understand who they are and learn to love who they are,” Kemp says. “And then in turn they can turn it outward to work with other people to help them love who they are.”

The goal tonight was not to make anyone feel bad about their upbringing, but to give a new approach to facing what normally divides people. Some of the students tell me there’s still a divide between faculty and students at Augusta University when it comes to openly talking about racism or sexism in society, but they say experiences like tonight’s help bridge that gap.