Stringing Together Privilege, One Bead at a Time

Published: 
Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Student Voices is a new blog series written by SMU students. If you have an idea for a story, reach out to jberton@samuelmerritt.edu. This article is written by Emily Nusbaum, a first-year occupational therapy student.

Is your race represented respectfully in mainstream media? Can you express your sexual orientation publicly without fear of social ramifications? Are there numerous places in your community to practice your religion? Has your sexual availability ever been assumed based on your clothing?

On October 1st, I was given a packet of 42 questions* divided into categories of race, sexuality, nationality, gender, religion, ability, and socioeconomic status. Sitting in my Integrative Seminar class with Professor Beth Ching, I was then asked to string a bead onto a cord for each question to which I could identify a personal privilege.

I began with a blue bead; because I am sure I will not need to skip a meal because of lack of money. Next, an oblong bead because I have never had to think twice about gaining physical access to a building. A long pattern of beads was next, based solely on the color of my skin. And the cord of beads continued to grow.

In the end I was left with two things: a tangible way to reflect on important social issues and a wave of emotions that ensued.

I felt intrigue, thankfulness, inspiration, injustice, shame, and frustration. I realized that I had no control of the unearned privileges that I’ve experienced due to my race, economic status, nationality or of the ways that I have not been granted systematic privileges due to gender. However, what I do with those privileges is a different story, looking at my beads, I feel hopeful for the future.

I have been at SMU for just six weeks as a first year occupational therapy student. The importance placed on recognizing and celebrating difference has been obvious since my first day here. I feel extremely fortunate to have already had assignments relating to occupational justice and a series of 3-hour classes devoted entirely to diversity. These assignments and lectures have expanded my knowledge of diversity and provided support for application not only to my future career, but also to my participation as a citizen in society.

I am thankful to my professors for providing a safe and intellectually stimulating environment to talk about poignant topics. I am thankful to my cohort members for bravely sharing their stories and respectfully listening to mine. In occupational therapy, environment plays a key role in a client’s success. That is truly what SMU has created: an environment promoting the success of students through the dedication of resources toward diversity education.

*Activity based on and exercise by Gerakina Arlene Sgoutas and colleagues, Metropolitan State College; Denver, CO.

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