The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass

The Department of Psychology


Tanya Madden

It is a veritable "right of passage" for students to complain about inequities in the university system and university policies which seem to favor individuals whose idea of poverty is being financially supported by one's parents, driving a functional vehicle, and not having enough money to attend the Mardis Gras in New Orleans. Frequently, the recognition of these obvious social injustices provides the impetus for social change. In this respect, identifying problems within the university system can serve an important and productive social function. However, sometimes this focus on the negative aspects of university life can hinder our perceptions of the fundamental truth that we are fortunate to be involved in an academic system which affords us the privilege to complain.

Yes, I said "privilege." Now, before your eyes start rolling towards the top of your head, and you say, "working a full time job, attending school, and supporting a family is not a privilege," allow me to explain my definition of privilege. According to Webster's New World Dictionary, the word "privilege" means "a special right, favor, etc. granted to some person or group." Thus, the privilege I speak of now is neither financial nor familial in nature: university education itself is a privilege (despite the Jeffersonian "equal rights" rhetoric) because it is a special right conferred only on those individuals who are fortunate enough to possess or crafty enough to acquire the resources necessary to attend college. This truth may seem unbelievable but the facts speak for themselves.

The majority of Americans do not attend college. In fact, studies have shown that poverty is negatively correlated with college education (many impoverished American children do not even foresee high school completion in their futures, let alone college education). In addition, a global perspective offers further supporting evidence. A substantial number of foreign countries do not provide citizens with equal access to college education. In fact, in some of these countries certain groups are flagrantly denied a college education on the basis of ethnic, gender, or class differences. In light of these truths, the fact that many of us have struggled through poverty and perhaps other obstacles and have still managed to attend college certainly attests to our desire and ability to confer this educational privilege upon ourselves. But let us remember that because college education is not granted to everyone. It is a privilege and must be recognized as such.

Why is this recognition important? Because the "real world" is not embodied in the university vacuum and psychology is not limited to the study of the minds of college students but involves the study of the mind in a more general sense. As psychologists, we have a social responsibility to seek a world understanding beyond the hallowed halls of academia and conduct research that will increase our knowledge of this world. How can we possibly increase our understanding of the world if we have no conception of our privileged place within it?

To students I propose this challenge: Let us all recognize our privileged status as university students in the process of effecting social change. If this recognition seems difficult I challenge you to take a 15 minute drive to "skid row" or Hollywood boulevard at midnight and claim that being a university student is anything other than a privilege.


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