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Photo taken at a session of the Difficult Conversations series at Western Illinois University. The conversations offer the campus community an opportunity to talk about issues that arise when people unfamiliar with others' backgrounds, values or experiences are asked to work and live side by side.
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Difficult Conversations Feb. 6 Session to Cover Power, Privilege

January 18, 2013


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MACOMB, IL – Western Illinois University's series of informal discussions, Difficult Conversations (Dif/Con), continues this semester with the first installment, "I Don't Feel Privileged: Differing Perceptions of Power and Privilege," slated for 3:30-5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6 in the University Union Lamoine Room. The conversations offer the campus community an opportunity to talk about issues that arise when people unfamiliar with others' backgrounds, values or experiences are asked to work and live side by side. Shazia Rahman, professor in the English and journalism department, is coordinating this session and will begin with a brief opening that will lead into small-group discussions.

Deb Miretzky, assistant professor of educational and interdisciplinary studies at Western and co-coordinator of the Difficult Conversations series, uses the Oxford Dictionaries' definition of "privilege" as "a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group" as a starting point for thinking about ways to approach this discussion.

"Usually when we think about privilege in the United States, we think about somebody who is white, or male or both," Miretzky explained. "Given how much has been tried to level the playing field—policies like affirmative action and Title IX—is it still the case that white males have more benefits than women or people of color? We also wonder what people think about privilege when they consider social class, sexual orientation or religious belief. Sometimes I hear people say they feel various minorities now have more advantages than ever before. So we'd like to explore that more, especially what people consider fair and unfair and how they might be able to address unfairness."

In addition, Miretzky noted, the Feb. 6 conversation will provide an opportunity to explore the complexity of identity more deeply. Individuals cannot be identified by a single characteristic.

"A person's gender, class, race or ethnicity and sexual orientation can combine to make somebody a whole lot more than just a 'white woman' or a 'Hispanic man.' So sometimes a part of who you are may work in your favor, even when another part could shut you out of opportunities," she said.

One participant evaluated the experience at a previous Dif/Con by writing: "Today made me feel more aware that it is okay to ask the questions you want to."

Difficult Conversations sessions are open to all faculty, staff and students. Refreshments will be served, and names will be drawn for Macomb Area Chamber of Commerce gift certificates.

The fourth 2012-13 installment of the Difficult Conversations series is scheduled for Wednesday, March 27, and is titled, "The Gender Box: Pressures to be 'Male' and 'Female' Continue."

The Difficult Conversations series is sponsored by Western's Expanding Cultural Diversity Project, the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Research, the University Diversity Council, the Office of Student Activities and the University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100.

For more information, contact Miretzky at (309) 298-1528 or via email at D-Miretzky@wiu.edu.

Posted By: WIU News (U-Relations@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations