The privilege walk activity can be a powerful way of demonstrating differences within a group in terms of unearned privilege.
Group members are asked to line up side by side in the middle of a large space. The facilitator asks participants to take steps forward (or to take steps backward) in response to specific statements, such as, “Take a step forward if people like you are regularly represented in positive ways on television.”
Kevin M. Huie, Director of the Cross Cultural Center at the University of California, Irvine, provides detailed instructions for conducting a privilege walk and for leading a reflective discussion of the experience. Note that Huie points out the important point that this is a high risk exercise. The University of Albany’s School of Social Work provides the important note that the privilege walk is a “high risk” exercise that should be preceded by building of trust within the group. Huie notes that participants must be aware of the concept of discrimination.
Multiple versions of the privilege walk are available on the internet and easily found by a web browser. Facilitators might find it helpful to read several versions of the privilege walk and select statements that are likely to work best with their groups.
Given the space available, facilitators can lead groups of up to 30 participants through the experience. With larger groups, some individuals can act as observers while others participate in the walk. Everyone can be included in the reflective discussion.
Wagner College anthropologist Celeste Gagnon has successfully used the privilege walk activity in her courses to increase understanding and prompt critical thinking. Toward the end of the reflective discussion on the activity, she adds a clever component. At this point, the participants have been spread out based on their responses to the statements used in the walk. She asks all the participants to invest full effort in taking the largest step forward that they can possibly accomplish. She tells them that this is their chance to invest individual effort into getting ahead. After all students take a giant step forward, she asks them to reflect on the effect of their immediate hard work in terms of whether they were able to overcome the advantages of unearned privilege. The students are able to see that the distribution from most privileged to least privileged has not been disrupted. Despite the opportunity to work hard to get ahead, the system of privilege remained intact. This provides a strong segue into a discussion of the myth of meritocracy.