Recognising Privilege in Teaching

James – a self-portrait.


My Name is James

And for 12 years I designed buildings.”

This is how I normally start my lectures, almost regardless of topic.

However when I started one of my lectures this year I instead started with the words

“It’s really important to start by acknowledging that I understand that I am white, I am university educated, I am male, I am middle-class. I have all this privilege.”1

A few years before this I discovered that it is powerful for the lecturer to acknowledge privilege when teaching. I was attending a Student Union event on decolonising the curriculum at the time.

But it wasn’t until a conversation I had last year that the information really sunk in. I was talking to a female member of staff about the amount of time they invested in preparing for teaching. And I contrasted it to my own experience. It is fair to say that every subject is different and every lecture is different but what struck me was how comparably similar both our topic and our background was. And yet the amount of time we spent preparing was vastly different.

At a different time I had made a comment to my wife about how when I open my mouth students listen. And how that wasn’t the case for another member of staff that I was teaching with at the time. I had always assumed it was because I am loud (I am very loud) but maybe the hush that accompanied my loud voice was also because of something else.

I can’t undo the privilege I have experienced in my life. But I can acknowledge it. And when I acknowledge it I can start to reflect on what that means for myself and for others.

So when you stand up to teach next year, and you introduce yourself, rather than just saying who you are, you might, if it’s appropriate, acknowledge the privilege that you have been the recipient of.

Note 1. I started with these words at the beginning of a lecture I did on anti-racist architecture, not at the start of term. It felt important for me personally to start here for that particular topic. For other units I will be starting the unit with these words.

James Norman

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