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St. Mary’s Project Opens Dialogue on White Privilege

“It is simply something that needs to be talked about,” Kathleen Gross, ‘19, responded when asked why she chose white privilege as the focus of her French SMP project. The project, still in its early research phases, will eventually become part of a documentary and paper examining the cultural differences between France and the United States with regards to privilege and race. “If I can get even one more person thinking about it, it would be worth it,” Gross said on her first open discussion on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2018. Situated in the Blackistone Room in Anne Arundel Hall, the discussion was one of several scheduled discourses between students that Gross plans to use as research for her final presentation.

Wednesday’s discussion was advertised around campus and was split into three interactive parts. It began with six students standing on a line in the center of the room as part of an interactive activity. In response to a series of questions aimed at recognizing privilege these students stepped either forward or back. The result was a visual representation of disparities in privilege between different people. Gross says that she chose this activity specifically because people “don’t often see privilege in the context of the people you sit in class with.” She hopes the visual result will cause people to think about their experiences with privilege in everyday life.

The following two sections consisted of questions asked to all attending students. The first section of questions focused on vocalizing the responses provoked by the activity while the second explored how privilege is experienced in everyday life. Open ended questions such as  “What is privilege?” allowed the attending students to guide the discussion. Gross says she “wants to minimize her voice and maximize that of the community.” The open discussions are her way of accomplishing this by letting peers take control of the dialogue she has opened. The discussion was recorded for research purposes with three camcorders and two audio recorders rented free of charge from the Media Center.

According to Gross, these discussions are only a small part of her overall project, which will focus on the cultural dynamics of race and privilege in both France and the United States. Her currently unnamed film will include three French case studies from her study abroad experience in Montpellier, France as well as three other case studies featuring students from St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM). According to Gross, one of the most interesting parts of the project so far has been cultural barriers. “Race is almost a curse word in France” she explains. “It has a very negative connotation, so people don’t discuss it.” This different perspective on race was part of the inspiration behind her choosing white privilege as the topic of her SMP. Her ultimate project will explore differences in how privilege is handled in France as opposed to the United States and will seek to expose more people to the concept of white privilege.

Gross plans on having at least one more on-campus open discussion similar to the one held Wednesday night. “My goal for this project is to reach the people,” she explained. “There is no better time to start the dialogue than now.” She looks forward to seeing even more students participate in the future.

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