Two weeks later, we're still talking about Princeton student Tal Fortgang and his op-ed describing his frustration at repeatedly being told to "check his privilege." Now, establishment is getting involved. If you want to go to Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, then you'd better get ready to check your privilege, because there's a Harvard class for that. Responding to a growing demand from student activists, on Friday administrators at the prestigious school announced that they would be adding a class on power and privilege to their freshman orientation program.
First year public policy masters student Reetu Mody started a group called HKS Speaks Out after she realized her courses examining policy issues seemed to leave race out of the equation. A recent petition calling on the administration to offer mandatory training on privilege and power during orientation gained more than 300 signatures, around a quarter of the school's student body.
“We’re at one of the most powerful institutions in the world, yet we never critically examine power and privilege and what it means to have access to this power,” Mody told New York Magazine. “We’re excited to have the administration on board for training all Harvard Kennedy School first years.”
Fortgang royally pissed off the majority of Internet users with his article "Why I'll Never Apologize for My Male Privilege" which, amazingly, made the leap from college newspaper (The Princeton Daily) to a media giant (TIME Magazine).
“Check your privilege,” the saying goes, and I have been reprimanded by it several times this year. The phrase, handed down by my moral superiors, descends recklessly, like an Obama-sanctioned drone, and aims laser-like at my pinkish-peach complexion, my maleness, and the nerve I displayed in offering an opinion rooted in a personal Weltanschauung. “Check your privilege,” they tell me in a command that teeters between an imposition to actually explore how I got where I am, and a reminder that I ought to feel personally apologetic because white males seem to pull most of the strings in the world.
It's not exactly like racism, Fortgang writes, but it kind of is. And what's more, his ancestors were persecuted too, so there.
Taking the admirably higher ground, Mody told New York Magazine that she actually just feels sorry for Fortgang and other students who identify with him.
If what you’ve been told all your life is you’re really talented and you deserve what you have, it’s going to be really hard to find out Maybe I don’t deserve it, and all these other people equally deserve it but never even had a shot. Schools are not giving students a space to manage that loss of identity.
It's a real shame this course doesn't exist at Princeton so that Fortgang himself could benefit. But with any luck, other institutions will take note.