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




4 thoughts on “And While You’re At It, Check Everything

  1. Stimulating article. Where I am living now, I notice that some people exhibit a strong bias against the Ultra Orthodox.These individuals evaluate people by their dress or looks and I believe never take the time to consider each person as an individual. Such a disappointment. I find myself closing my ears to their comments and inwardly cringing at their words. Even trying to explain how far off the track these people are can be a frustrating waste of time!


  2. I had a history professor in college — a great one, by the way — who, when we would become outraged by “how such a thing could happen” or scoff at “how anyone could ever believe THAT!” would look at us thoughtfully and say, “Okay. Now, take off your 20th Century glasses and put yourself …” It never failed to make us look at things differently or to hammer home the point, in the nicest and most thought-provoking way possible, that our zeitgeist, like that of the folks we were discussing, was informed by our experiences; so, too, was theirs. She was never condescending and, therefore, her advice never felt like an admonishment nor did it erect that “wall” that you spoke of in your post. All educators would do well to take a page out of her book!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s