Monday, July 15, 2024

Privilege

By Anna Avery T. Zapanta | September 1, 2023

Watching the 77th Miss Silliman Press Launch, one of the topics discussed stood out to me–the role of privilege in systematic inequalities.

Silliman University (SU) is a private institution that has always prided itself in its student inclusivity and progressive identity. Individuals from all over the Philippines and around the globe enroll and become part of the Silliman community each year. With this, it is no secret that a good chunk of the student population is from affluent backgrounds, and thus perhaps hold   a privileged outlook on life. 

On the topic of privilege on campus, we would inevitably need to ask ourselves the question: How does social class impact campus involvement, campus social life, and the overall perception of Sillimanians?

In a conversation I had with a good friend of mine who goes to a different university here in Dumaguete, I happened to mention all the council and academic organization fees we had to pay every semester, the season pass we were required to purchase for our PE and GE 6 classes, and the additional expenses needed for class projects—all on top of our tuition. 

She was shocked and explained to me that in her university, they are asked what they want and what budget they have for any given event. When they plan events, they always have to keep in mind how not everyone is able to provide the same and ensure that students will not have to worry about their budget, where even ₱150 is considered too much to ask for.

Every Sillimanian deserves the same quality of education, yet not every student has the privilege to involve themselves in costly extra-curricular organizations or learning activities outside the four walls of the classroom—limiting their educational enrichment. The lack of democratization in joining school events, competitions, seminars, and more can lead to feelings of exclusion, which goes against the holistic learning that Silliman preaches.

I get a reality check when I notice the differences in the problems we identify and the attitude toward current social and economic issues within our Silliman community compared to other institutions. Unfortunately, it is evident that those from well-to-do backgrounds are more likely to involve themselves in advocating or protesting on socioeconomic or even political issues simply because they have the privilege of time, money, and protection. Those who actually experience the suffering first-hand may not even have the resources that those in private schools do to speak on issues that affect them.

Much like Taylor Swift, we don’t want a bad reputation to ruin intentions that are real. I have heard from slivers of conversations and unfavorable musings of how Sillimanians are perceived by those outside–and even some from within–the halls of Silliman.

That same friend expressed to me that sometimes the privilege of some not having to ask “What’s your budget?” or not having to check their wallet if they have enough money to have breakfast the next day is often taken for granted, and that some outsiders perceive Silliman to be a breeding ground for “wokeness”—but one that is performative. 

Silliman is a community of individuals filled with so much kindness, potential, and generosity. I do not wish for those outside of these halls to have a perception of Silliman and its community that does not reflect our best intentions–despite some of them admittedly being true. 

Furthermore, to shift this unfavorable perception of Silliman, I would hope for more sensitivity and reflection on our behavior to determine how we treat and engage with others, to take into consideration the things we prioritize and give importance to, and how privilege can be used as an avenue for implementing useful and effective change rather than to simply cater to our own whims.

Sillimanian students and the administration should work towards reducing the gap felt by those inside and outside of the Silliman community. It can be done through the administration stepping up and not seeing “privileged” as the default status of its students. Doing this would make Silliman seem less of an elitist institution—as it has often been accused of in the past—and by promoting activities that don’t require students to spend. As for student leaders, perhaps they should slowly shift away from requiring students to pay fees and instead focus on money-generating efforts to fund events and activities.

After all, as Noam Chomsky said: “The more privilege you have, the more opportunity you have. The more opportunity you have, the more responsibility you have.”

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