Recognizing Our Professional Privilege

At the School of Social Work, we talk a lot about privilege…white privilege, male privilege, (temporary) able-bodied privilege, the privilege of being a member of the dominant faith group, etc. As privilege is often unconscious in nature, at least for those who have it, cultivating awareness of such privilege is crucial.

One type of privilege that I had never considered until a eloquent and convicting presentation by Laurie Selz-Campbell during my first semester was professional privilege. It did not take long for me to realize that I had benefited from this type of privilege numerous times. I am reminded specifically of when I did outreach work in Los Angeles with those who were homeless. If I was trying to get someone access to desperately needed services, just the mention of my role and affiliation helped me jump through inter-agency hoops that my clients struggled to overcome. Simply saying, “I’m an outreach worker with such-and-such agency” commands a certain respect and automatic assumption of clout.

The titles I have held give me power that those for whom I am advocating do not usually benefit from. I find myself walking a fine line between leveraging that privilege and making sure I am not disempowering who it is I am working with.

Discussing privilege can unsurprisingly put us on the defense, and it is important to approach the conversation with the same type of cultural humility we strive to embody in any number of direct practice scenarios. The goal is never to create an environment of shame or guilt, but rather an awareness of the systems in which we operate. Our aim should be reverent stewardship of the privilege we have been given as professionals, as well as an active fight for the empowerment of those we are trying to lift up.

I am grateful for faculty members such as Professor Selz-Campbell who do the hard work of raising awareness and subsequently helping to create sustainable, life-giving change!

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