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by Akeisha Lari & Sania Hameed

Inspired by Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack

As part of our pre-conference session (“Walking” the Talk: Taking Equity One “Step” at a Time) at CACUSS19, we – Akeisha Lari and Sania Hameed – developed a Privilege “Backpack”, to think about the different ways that privileges manifest within higher education institutions and student affairs broadly. These are directly inspired by Peggy McIntosh’s foundational work, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Many of these can be adopted to workplaces outside of higher education as well, but we felt that keeping the breadth did not reduce the applicability to our student affairs context. 

This list is by no means exhaustive, and is built by considering the experiences of our colleagues and consulting with them, as well as mulling over our own experiences and observations. This list is not intended to shame anyone – it is simply a reflective tool to help us think about the ways and moments that we hold or lack privilege across different social stratifications, including race, gender, socio-economic status, ability, sexual orientation, and more. 

  1. In my workplace, I can if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my race or ethnic group most of the time. 
  2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
  3. I have access to stable and continuing employment that provides me with benefits and job security.
  4. I do not worry about new colleagues having negative perceptions of my competence upon first meeting me. 
  5. I can travel across campus at night most of the time, without worrying about being followed or harassed.
  6. I can look at senior and general administration at my institution and see people of my race widely represented. 
  7. People assume that I was born here and grew up as a citizen, without questioning my nationality or background.
  8. Our curricular materials acknowledge and positively showcase people who share aspects of my identity.
  9. I have access to networks of people, including those in senior roles, that can support my career development and provide me with access to opportunities and advice.
  10. I can be fairly certain that my voice will be heard in a group in which I am the only person of my gender.
  11. I can find food on campus which fit with my cultural traditions.
  12. I can celebrate my Religious/Spiritual Observances without having to use lieu time or take a Personal Day or Vacation Day from work.
  13. If I am invited to participate in an event, it is because people genuinely value and are open to the knowledge that I bring, instead of my presence being performative or a checkmark.
  14. I do not have to worry about my account going into deficit if I charge work expenses to my credit card, and receive reimbursement later.
  15. I can communicate at work using the first language that I learned as a child. (my mother-tongue)
  16. I do not worry about people mispronouncing my name.
  17. I am able to access all locations on campus without requiring any accommodation or support.
  18. I can dress in a less polished manner without having people attribute that to a lack of professionalism.
  19. If I need to take time off, I do not worry about jeopardizing my employment status, or worry about financial hardship due to being away from work.
  20. I do not have to worry about people using my correct pronouns, or having to explain what my pronouns are.
  21. I can ask challenging questions about our work without my intentions being perceived as hostile. 
  22. When I search for generic stock images and promotional materials for my programs, I find myself represented in the results.
  23. I am never asked to speak for and represent all the people of my social group. (e.g. sexual orientation, race).
  24. I can criticize our institution and talk about how much the policies and behaviors need to be updated without being seen as a cultural outsider. 
  25. I can be fairly certain that if I ask to talk to the “person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race.
  26. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my social group (e.g. (dis)ability, gender).
  27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared. 
  28. I can be pretty sure that speaking up critically is not as likely to jeopardize my career advancement as compared to others; I might be lauded for it.
  29. I can feel certain that foundational theories in the field of student development include me and my social group(s) by default.
  30. I can easily and conveniently access bathrooms that feel safe, and align with or welcome my gender identity.
  31. If I am hired, I do not worry about being perceived as a token hire.
  32. I can access my mental health benefits without stigma from my colleagues. 
  33. I can be fairly certain that I can find people who understand my professional story and challenges, and would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally. 
  34. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect poorly on my (dis)ability.
  35. In conversations with colleagues, I do not worry about sharing stories about my family as we fit the traditional conception of a family unit.
  36. When colleagues share stories about traveling abroad, I can participate by sharing my own travel stories.
  37. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my membership to a marginalized social group is not the problem. 
  38. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race. 
  39. I can go to professional networking events and not feel out of place in environments that encourage drinking alcohol.
  40. My accent is considered either standard, or appealing.
  41. I have completed my post-secondary education without worrying about the financial constraints. 
  42. I can bring my partner to events without worrying about potentially negative reactions from my colleagues.
  43. I can enter into spaces without worrying about my gender expression being questioned. 
  44. If I do not get a promotion, it is not because my employer is worried that I will be having a child and going on leave. 
  45. If I speak eloquently, people are not pleasantly surprised. 
  46. My gender is either equally (or under) represented at the front line level, as compared to senior positions.
  47. I can go up to the front of a room to present a workshop without people thinking that I am a student. 
  48. I can choose to work in institutions, regardless of the institution being urban or rural, without a fear of being isolated from people who share my identity. 
  49. I have the ability to stay late at work without having to worry about caregiving (childcare or family care) obligations. 
  50. I can attend conferences and professional development opportunities and without worrying about standing out, or feeling out of place in those spaces. 
  51. I can enter most spaces without being questioned, directly or indirectly, about my presence in that space.
  52. The manner in which I speak is considered the norm and is deemed to be more professional.
  53. When I attend a speaker event, the person speaking is often someone that reflects aspects of my identity. 
  54. I am not called on to ensure that members of my group are represented in programming, as members of my group are automatically included or are the focus of most non-specialized programming.
  55. I am not worried that my lack of a social media presence (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) impacts my professional opportunities. 
  56. I am comfortable engaging in the types of after-work social activities that are chosen by my colleagues.
  57. In my role, I have access to vacation time, where I can completely disconnect from my job. 
  58. I can talk about being a parent and my love for my children without worrying about negative repercussions. 
  59. I do not worry about being perceived negatively or perceived as different, due to my name. 
  60. When I use my lived experience to validate a point I am trying to make, it is accepted without needing a theory or data for my experience to be accepted as legitimate.

Thank you for reading! We encourage you to consider the ways in which your responses to these statements shape or impact your practice and experience in student affairs, as well as that of your colleagues. If this tool was helpful or if you have any feedback, please feel free to reach out to us on Twitter or via email (;

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