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The Loudoun Campus Privilege Walk

Loudoun campus faculty and staff standing in a lineOn Thursday, September 24, 2021, the Diversity Committee at the Loudoun campus held its first in-person Privilege Walk (also known as an Equity Walk). An enthusiastic group made up of staff and faculty met outside the Learning Commons and, co-led by Katie Jennings (Associate Director, Allied Health) and Dr. Tregel Cockburn (Professor, Veterinary Technology) participated in an exercise designed to show the intricacies of privilege. The group formed a line and, in response to a total of forty-five statements, each participant took a small step forward or back, depending on how they related to each statement.

Those statements generally referred to upbringing, often reflecting educational experiences, such as:

“If English is your native or first language, take a step forward.”

“If you studied the culture or history of your ancestors in school, take a step forward.”

“If you were encouraged to attend college by your family or teachers, take a step forward.”

Although the members maintained their sense of enthusiasm, the group grew solemn as the disparities became more apparent. By the time the forty-fifth statement was read, the straight line was uneven, a human bar graph depicting how different elements of privilege had informed their lives.

“Surprised” was the most common response, when the participants were asked afterward for their reflections about the results. Many expressed a sense of unawareness about their depths of privilege; others were taken aback that they weren’t as privileged as they had perceived. And some were dismayed that negative elements reflected in their own upbringing were still being experienced by their students today.

All agreed that the exercise was of fundamental importance, dramatically telling, and hoped it would be repeated at Loudoun as well as other campuses.

“I hope that the takeaway is action,” Dr. Cockburn said afterward. “I hope that people find a sense of introspection, a willingness to look inward, and a desire for change. Change for the service of our students, colleagues, parents, all the stakeholders at NOVA.”

If you’re interested in bringing a Diversity Walk to your campus, please contact your local campus DEI Committee, or Dr. Nathan Carter at the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.