And While You’re At It, Check Everything


Earlier this month, Tal Fortgang, a Princeton freshman, wrote an essay in reaction to often hearing his professors (and some fellow students) tell him to “check his privilege,”  a comment frequently used to tell someone that their presumed bias is showing (  

The professors have a point.  So does Fortgang.  Unfortunately, they are talking at cross purposes, never acknowledging the other’s concern.  Professors rightly attempt to raise students’ consciousness by pointing out how fortunate circumstances can affect one’s perspective.  But I think professors are also obligated to keep open the lines of communication on campus and in the classroom.

“Check your privilege,” in essence, constructs a wall that can ironically  prevent us from working toward further understanding.  Opinions or points of discussion–however erroneous they may be–would rarely, if ever, be raised or even valued because past personal history could never be changed.

Isn’t enlightenment a main goal of higher education–an amalgam of ideas, where no one will be shamed into silence for who or what they are?  Once the phrase is uttered, where does the classroom discussion lead?  Is it a launching point for valuable insight and learning?  Or could students become intimidated, shrinking away from opportunities for understanding others?

More fundamentally, we need to ask:  If we all–students and professors included–have our own affected outlook, are we ever able to understand anyone who’s not like us? Why would we try if we’d be knocked down before the conversation has a chance to start? Are institutions of higher learning still able to provide critical thinking skills?

The larger point here is that anything can cloud a person’s perspective. Not just privilege.  Our world view will always be filtered through the prism of our own background and experience.

We all have a bias of some kind to check.   What’s yours?

X, S




Old Friends, New Friends

During the summer of 2012 I embarked on a quest to examine my existing friendships.  I had had a rough year.  I disliked my job, lost a dear friendship and was painfully adjusting to the loss of a social group that had long been important to me.

I needed to reconnect to people with whom I could expect a reciprocity of trust and genuine interest, where personal depth didn’t stop at the throw-away line, “Hi, how are you?”  Like a diet lacking essential nutrients, superficial interactions online and off were depleting me.  Nourishment would come from old-fashioned face-to-face.

I decided to make a list of local New York area friends I wanted see in the flesh (for now, long-distance friendships would have to remain virtual).    Some I had seen within the last year.  Others not for twenty or thirty.  I was determined to reevaluate–and hopefully reestablish–both older, deeply rooted friendships as well as more recent ones.

I scheduled get-togethers with each person on my list of eighteen over the next few weeks.  One or two visits felt awkward and uncomfortable.  Those won’t continue.  With most, however, things picked up where we left off, never feeling the distance of time.  I enjoyed catching up, opening up and simply feeling the warmth of a lovely friendship.

As nice as this was, I hoped my summer efforts would prompt more frequent contact, either virtual or real-life.  Regrettably, many fell back into their daily lives, pushing the importance of staying in touch to the back of their priority list.

To be fair, I get it.  Life happens.  Lesson Learned–Know when to make an effort and when to let go: I’ll take the initiative and give you the benefit of the doubt a couple of times but then I’ll wonder if you’re interested in maintaining the connection.  People do get caught up in themselves but if you’d like to sustain a relationship, ya gotta give back.

I treasure the life-long kinships made during camp, college and early work years.  I’ve been lucky.  These friendships seem to have the most staying power.  I trust they’ll be in touch, if not in person then through technology.

But as I get older, finding durable friendships is more challenging.  I thrive on social interaction.  Meeting and getting to know others energizes me even if most won’t become more than a nodding acquaintance.

That realization will sustain me for now.