On Monday, Dec. 2, faculty and administrators unveiled the Privilege Campaign, a show of portrait photographs of faculty and administrators detailing the privilege that each of these individuals experience. The show is located in the faculty commons and a panel discussion took place on the following day, Tuesday, Dec. 4.
Each photograph in the show depicted a close-up image of the face of an individual. Superimposed over these faces were words the individual had written, explaining the privileges that each of them benefited from. The photos were taken by ALANA Center interns Alisa Prince ’14, Sieu Nguyen ’17 and Giselle Sanchez Huerta ’16. The editing was done by Vassar photographer Monica Church and Assistant Director of Campus Activities Dominique Waldron.
The photos are accompanied by written statements made by the individuals who were photographed. Many of these statements dealt with the same themes of individual privilege. One such image, written by Dean of the College D.B. Brown stated, “I am increasingly aware that in almost all social dimensions (sex, race, social class, sexual orientation, age), I have enjoyed tremendous privilege for a long time. The discussions generated by the Privilege Campaign have really been thought provoking and I realize that privileged status can bring with it a lack of awareness to that status. This has definitely been true for me.”
Another statement was written by Assistant Director of Campus Activities Dominque Waldron. She wrote, “Whether or not intentional, participating in the Privilege Campaign forced me to realize that I do not consider myself to be very privileged. Coming from a low-income background, I’ve had to work tirelessly to prove that I was worthy of assimilating out of the ‘ghetto.’”
The statement went on, “ I have two degrees from prominent institutions, but I am burdened with student loan debt. Although I am an educated and determined young professional, I will always be black first and woman second; leaving my real achievements unrecognized.”
Director for the Campus Life LGBTQ Center and Women’s Center Judy Jarvis ’07 explained the development of the event. “The idea developed from the Bias Incident Response Team wanting to do some proactive and educational work on campus around issues of bias and privilege,” she wrote in an email. “The Campaign itself was designed by Luz Burgos-López, Luis Inoa and myself, a sub-team of BIRT. We three have been working since August to design the Campaign, recruit participants, take photos, and lead workshops in which participants wrote their artist statement and image statement.”
The decision to open with Vassar faculty and staff voices before working with students created the opportunity to present the issues in a new way. Jarvis continued, “[Burgos-López], [Inoa] and myself felt it was important that employees step up and show the ways in which we experience privilege and how we negotiate our many different identities. We wanted to show Vassar administrators and faculty in a different light than students usually see us.”
On Tuesday, several administrators and faculty members, including Jarvis, spoke in a panel discussion about the goals of the campaign and the process through which the photos were made. One student who attended the event was Alejandro McGhee ’16. He spoke to his own reactions to the event. “ I really like that the event created a vulnerable space for the participants and attendees to talk about the complexities of their privilege,” he said.
Though the opening of the show enjoyed a large turn-out, fewer students were in attendance for the panel discussion. As McGhee said in a written statement, “The turnout was definitely less than I expected. I know that Tuesday during that time slot is a difficult time for people to show up but still I think conversations like this should take priority over a lot of other things if we do agree that these moments need to happen.”
He continued, “I think that it is one thing to talk about the administration being very reactive to incidences of bias and/or hate speech but the effort needs to be put in by the VC community to be active participants in these proactive processes of dialogue.”
The campaign aimed to raise awareness and focus on community building.
Jarvis wrote, “The Campaign hopes to promote both introspection and thoughtfulness about the climate of our community. We wanted both participants and viewers of the gallery to think about their daily experiences of privilege or lack of privilege.”
Overall, their was a largely positive reaction to the campaign. Jarvis explained, “It was exciting that around 150 people came through during the Gallery Opening on Monday; that, to me, is a great success. The Gallery is up through Dec. 20th, so I hope many more folks will stop by and take a look.”
The campaign will continue in the spring; however, this time it will include students. Jarvis notes, “The real test of the success of the Campaign will be in how many people participate in the spring installment, which is open to students and all employees.”
She concluded, “I hope that having seen the installation in December, it will inspire may different people on campus to get involved.”