Opinion: Check your privilege

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The beginning of the fall semester is the mother of all fresh starts.

Across the globe, millions of students are stumbling into new schedules, minds wiped clean from a summer of adventures (Netflix-related or otherwise). New students are resolved to make a good first impression, and returning students may be determined to improve upon previous ones. Everyone stands poised on the edge of the next four months, ready and waiting to learn what there is to be learned.

It can therefore be beneficial to use this time to improve not just as a paper-writer or a research-doer, but as a human being. A good starting place is a simple process called Checking Your Privilege.

Ferguson, Mo. failed to check its privilege when police officer Darren Wilson was not arrested after fatally shooting an unarmed black man, Michael Brown.

Members of the Facebook group “Support Darren Wilson” failed to check their privilege when they gathered last Saturday in an effort to eliminate race from the picture. One demonstrator claimed the event was merely “about two men and the events that unfolded between them.”

Privilege is power, leisure, agency. Those who don’t possess it are quickest to spot it.

Citizens and celebrities from all over the United States forgot their privilege this summer as they dumped buckets of perfectly clean water over their heads in the name of philanthropy — the Internet sensation known as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in which people post and tag videos on social media as an alternative to donating to the ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) Association.

Based on the number of donors – alsa.org claims 1.3 million people have joined the organization this year – we can assume that several million gallons of clean water have been used to perpetuate the fad. All this to get out of making a donation to a worthy cause.

While the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has been effective in raising money, it has somehow blinded the Western world to other issues, such as water shortages. Twenty-five percent of Colorado is currently in at least a moderate drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. When people within state lines struggle to grow food or support their livelihoods – to say nothing of those elsewhere who struggle to find drinking water at all – it’s usually not a good move to pour large amounts of water over your head on camera because you didn’t want to click a PayPal link.

Privilege is nothing to be ashamed of, nothing we need to reject in the name of social justice, but it is a prominent part of our daily lives. When gone unchecked and unquestioned, privilege can cause much greater damage than hurt feelings. As it is in Ferguson, so too can it be in Boulder.

If there’s one message new and returning students — especially on a campus like ours — should carry with them through the semester and beyond, it’s a simple one: check yourself.

Acknowledge your privilege, acknowledge others, and move forward with them all in mind.

Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Lauren Thurman at lauren.thurman@colorado.edu.

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