By Mia Kerner
On a recent evening, Steven C. Ender Hall was filled with those seeking a unique and moving experience. Organized by GRCC honors students, Alena Visnovsky, Shayna Haynes Heard and Iliana Argueta for their Capstone Project concerning identity, the night was one of uncomfortable yet necessary discussion.
These students constructed a “Privilege Bead” activity with the intention of sparking conversations about unearned privileges that one might hold given their various social identities.
This activity was created in a multi-faceted manner, allowing it to be performed in many different social settings and events following its debut.
Participants were instructed to read each statement relating to gender, race, religion, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, age, national origin and ability. If they agreed with the statement, they were to place a bead onto their keychain. As they acquired more beads, they were encouraged to ponder on their own privileges symbolized on their lengthening keychain.
Following the construction of the keychains, the participants were encouraged to take part in a conversation of self-reflection, led by Visnovsky, Heard and Argueta.
This conversation was to be one of dialogue, not debate. The curators took care to establish an environment where participants felt comfortable and safe to share their thoughts and questions.
This “Privilege Bead” activity not only provided a concrete, physical representation of one’s privileges, but allowed participants to express their opinions and ask their uncomfortable questions in a truly safe environment.
During the conversation, a participant shared that she felt embarrassed of how many beads she had acquired on her keychain. Heard thanked her for sharing and added:
“I think that there’s a way for us to have conversations like this without necessarily playing into that shame aspect, and maybe shifting that towards feeling empowered to perhaps leverage that privilege that we have. We can become advocates for those who don’t have our privileges, and that in and of itself is a benefit,” Heard said.“I understand that feeling of embarrassment or guilt, but I would just encourage everybody to reflect on ‘why do I feel this guilt?,’ ‘why do i feel embarrassed?’ and how you can shift that feeling to use it to empower and make a difference.”
Visnovsky, Heard and Argueta’s syllabus provides a deeper look into the importance of these difficult conversations surrounding social identity and multicultural interactions, as well as their podcast.
Visnovsky later shared: “I think the event went really well, even though only a small number attended, we were able to spark fantastic dialogue about privilege and intersectionality. It was a good opportunity for my group and l to practice discussing our project topics”.
Attending this event and participating in the “Privilege Bead” activity was a memorable experience for those who participated and those who curated alike.