White Privilege |Wh·i·te|priv·i·lege| :

The concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards, and the power to shape the norms and values of society which white people receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color, in a racist society.

(Adapted from Oberlin College’s Multicultural Center Privilege and Allyship Pamphlet)


The official mission of the YWCA is “dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and girls, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all”. During the Week without Violence program, the YWCA organizes their annual Youth Leadership conference. The goal is to provide a unique opportunity to integrate a diverse group of students with the common goal of promoting justice within their respective school communities and personal lives. Usually, throughout the conference, the participants learn about racism, personal bias, and ways to be change agents. The students also learn how to promote respect and acceptance in daily behaviors, which will help empower peers in their schools. This upcoming conference’s theme is going to be “White Privilege”. We were assigned to construct the content as well as research engaging activities for the upcoming conference. Sonya Browne, who is the Mission Impact Director of YWCA, believed our group would bring a fresh perspective to the conference planning. By organizing a conference for students from across Cumberland County, we learned to appreciate how unique of an opportunity it is to come and discuss pertinent issues with peers. In the YWCA 2016 winter newsletter, Sonya Browne stated, “we must engage in ongoing self-assessment and awareness of how power differences affect our ability to be genuinely helpful. Committing to this process will bring about change, and that change will afford us the ability to denounce violence and injustice and stand in solidarity with marginalized and oppressed groups of people.” Our group had the opportunity to conduct intensive research about activities that will only live up to the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism by providing a space for critical discussion that can make change agents in the Carlisle community.

Individual Student Entry (Kennedy):

After going from voter registration with the Hope Station, I was sent to work with Jahmel as a part of the YWCA in organizing their annual fall conference. Going from just asking people to sign up for voting to organizing and planning a conference for the youth, had me questioning my abilities as a leader. I was shocked that the YWCA entrusted two college students to organize a major conference that would include over 100 students from the Cumberland county, and discuss the effects of having White privilege. Apart from discussing race and race relations in America, I first had to understand how to create a conference and lead a conference. Working with the YWCA and Jahmel, I was forced to tap into my skills as a leader and researcher but also my personal experience being a young woman of Color in  America.

The first thing I had to figure out was how to define what white privilege is. What is White Privilege? Is the conference just limited to discussing white people? How could we make this conference an area of discussion without being an attack zone? Would students even come? How do you introduce race to students at 8 in the morning? How do you level the playing field of the discussed and those doing the discussing? All these thoughts ran through my head in the creation of this project, and some questions went unanswered while some answers led to more questions. If it were not for the help of Jahmel setting a framework for the conference, I would have not known where to start.

I knew I could not step in front of high school students in an academic setting and attack their experiences or invalidate their opinions, but what I could do is fight against the basic story line. Like we discussed in class, we cannot simply look at things through one lens, we have to take a  multi-layered approach to see a more holistic picture. Instead of focusing on only White privilege, we will open up the floor to discuss everyone’s privileges at the conference. By doing that we would be able to set a groundwork of trust and not exclude the white students in attendance to being the scapegoats. We will define White privilege to the students as “the concrete benefits of access to resources and social rewards, and the power to shape the norms and values of society which white people receive, unconsciously or consciously, by virtue of their skin color, in a racist society” (adapted from Oberlin College Multicultural Resource Center). In order to make this idea definite I pulled from Peggy McIntosh’s article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. McIntosh was writing on learning about white privilege based off of her experience as a white women and growing up in an environment that gave her “no training in seeing[herself] as the oppressor” (1). I used the idea of McIntosh’s term of training as a leading tool in understanding how to address this topic. Like McIntosh expressed white privilege is an invisible knapsack.  While it hangs on the back of white bodies, it is invisible to them because they could not see it, so it is our mission to make them see it. I am going to have to define what white privilege is, what it means and also get not only White students to see their privilege but also everyone else to see theirs as well. If everyone addressed their privilege, sees their privilege and talks about it, we would be able to evaluate the impact of race and generate a conversation on how to end racism. Also, we would be able to discuss the intersectionality of race, class, gender and sex in ways that the students were not “trained” to think about because while White privilege focuses on race, privilege adds into the intersectionality of socio-economic factors.

By opening up the floor to discuss privileges, we are taking drawing on Kimberle Crenshaw’s well-known argument about the importance of intersectionality. In order to start the journey of white privilege, we have to exhibit the intersectionality of class, race, sex, and sexuality that impacts the power whiteness has on our society. While this topic is in no way tied to the Black Panthers or the Nation of Islam, it is tied to a more conscious America. We are using diplomacy and academia to question the validity and impact of White privilege. Through our work with the YWCA, we are creating this conference with the hopes to break the hysteria of talking about race in white spaces and look forward to White students being able to have a seat in a discussion that is centered around them. I know that this one conference will not cover everything and will most likely upset more students than please, but I know that they will benefit from it in the long run. By giving each student a space to speak freely without worrying about being told that their opinion does not matter or without having their experiences invalidated, we can change the narrative and tone about the status of race in America. We can unpack white privilege and get answers to questions that a lot of students are wondering and raise some questions that they did not think they had. We are not striving for a perfect or smooth conference but we are striving for knowledge to be gained and tolerance to be heightened.

Multimedia Example:

This is a video segment from MTV’s documentary, White People, that would supplement ignite a dialogue about White Privilege and the phenomenon of ‘reverse discrimination’:

Individual Student Entry (Jahmel):

For our project, the ultimate goal is to foster deep reflection on the impact white privilege has on their overall social interactions. Scholar Peggy McIntosh’s famous piece, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, models the type of self-reflection the conference wants to foster in the participants. As a group, our methodology included understanding the socio-cultural background of the participants. Through my bi-weekly service hours, used to constructing the leadership conference, I began to appreciate the ample amount of resources used to teach me about topics like White privilege through the Posse Foundation as a Posse Scholar. The difficult aspect of this service project is going to be translating this information to youth in high school, who may not have had exposure to topics of this nature. In my eyes, it is an exciting challenge to develop an undervalued skill to have in social justice work— to disseminate information to various demographics especially young people. I learned at the end of this research project how invaluable it is with including youth education in social justice work. If the youth can comprehend dense topics then anyone of any age could. Plus, they will be the new change agents to continue the work for the next generation.

The groups of high-school students come from different parts of the Cumberland County, with diverse sets of exposure to peers of different racial/ethnic backgrounds. This factored exponentially in our decision to include a section about terms and phrases like white privilege and racism. We want to equip the students with the terminology necessary to have a critical dialogue. Also, we took into consideration the need to make this critical dialogue interactive and intellectually safe for exploration for students because our society is not even well-versed in conversing on such a topic. We had to design activities that would not attack participants for an “invisible knapsack” of unearned socio-cultural benefits. Instead, we creatively sought to formulate activities that would instead highlight the collateral effect of racism called white privilege. We attempt to complete this feat by framing certain activities of self-reflection on their daily behaviors and privileges that spread across the spectrum from gender, class, sexuality, ableism, and race. The benefit allows students to create an idea of the host of privileges that permeate our society, which creates unwarranted marginalization of others. The facilitators will be explicit in focusing the conversation on race and white privilege in discussion question portions. Also, we considered different learning styles to transform the experience into learning a difficult topic by allowing for small group discussion time as well as a writing portion.

Throughout research, we believed having leading discussion questions as a big group will help guide the critical dialogue for the whole day. The four leading discussion questions for the conference we settled on exploring more depth throughout the conference are:

  1. What is whiteness?
  2. Are white people hurt by racism?  
  3. Can white people experience racism?
  4. What does it mean to be privileged?  
  5. Have you ever spoken about race? Especially with your family?  
  6. Can white people use their white privilege as a source of allyship with social justice initiatives by people of color?

So, the impact of each one of the questions depends upon the make-up of the small groups, where students can provide perceived “insight” on how white privilege and whiteness (or lack of) differs in their lives based on their racial/class backgrounds and geographic location.

Conclusion (critical reflection):

Young people do not have these daily conversations about power dynamics and social benefits that may be unconscious to them. If they do understand, they just accept it as norm since it has always been that way. The YWCA’s mission of dismantling racism starts with igniting crucial conversations about its by-product called white privilege. By providing young teens the space to explore what the implications of white privilege are, they will see the individual benefits and structural oppression affecting their peers. But also the space of self-reflection should question possible avenues to ally-ship in the fight to dismantle racism. It is a conference that has the potential to transformative and provides a basic level of understanding of a crucial portion of Racism—white privilege. They will understand their positionality to the inequalities that exist in our society and the marginalized communities unable to have equal opportunities and access provided by their citizenship. Our society has historically been fueled on white domination through racism. In response, the YWCA constructs this conference in order to conduct dialogue on topics that sustains racism in our society. Lastly, we think the conference could be expanded by holding the conference for two days due to time constraints on the students’ chance to dive deep into the material. And, the YWCA can utilize the relationships built at this conference to forge a positive connection with the school administration. This connection can lead to the school’s ability to track the development of the attendees and continue to inspire them to be change agents. The YWCA can encourage schools to use the students from the conference as student liaisons, who could give input on how to best move the school forward in a quest to combat marginalization and built acceptance at school.


Recommended Online Resources: ( a discussion guide about white privilege based on MTV’s documentary, White People) ( various resources to help sustain a dialogue around white privilege)


Hackman, Heather W. “Five Essential Components For Social Justice Education.” Equity & Excellence In Education 38.2 (2005): 103-109. Education Research Complete. Web. 2 May 2016.\

McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack.” Independent School 49.2 (1990): 31. Education Research Complete. Web. 2 May 2016.

“Privilege Walk,”—race.pdf?sfvrsn=2

“Privilege and Allyship Pamphlet,”