Over spring break I stayed in Hillsdale for the missions trip put on by InterVarsity. Though I was in the same town, I was in another world.
I found myself in many uncomfortable but stretching situations. We volunteered at the Salvation Army kitchen, the High Rise apartment building, and a school for special needs children, among several other places.
The events of this past year, coupled with being out in the community, confirmed the need for a conversation on Hillsdale’s campus concerning two issues: privilege and perspective. We can pass our entire days in a few square miles of land without having to be bothered by the people of the town who are gracious enough to host our education. This sense of insularity is toxic to our education because we fail to encounter our privilege and consider different perspectives and views holistically.
In essence, privilege is an advantage or immunity granted to a specific group of people by society. But it wasn’t until I took a class on crime and punishment with Professor Sudds and I learned about the cycles of crime and hardship that characterize some communities that I realized my own narrow perspective and clear privilege in life. While we shouldn’t feel guilty about our privilege, we should most definitely be aware of the obvious and hidden ways in which we benefit from it.
Unfortunately, even this idea threatens conservatives when it should not. How is it threatening to say that I might have been blessed with certain attributes or circumstances?
In a culture where the use of “hashtag blessed” is rampant in our everyday, ironic jargon, why is privilege so scary?
People don’t like the term ”privileged” because as soon as they accept that they are in fact privileged, they might feel a call to action they would rather avoid.
I find it ironic that conservatives hold small government values yet reject the idea of privilege.
If we don’t want the government interfering in our lives except to preserve our rights to life, liberty and property, we need to be responsible. We need to recognize the misfortune of others and take it upon ourselves to act to ensure that the government does not.
As Hillsdale puts it on its website, front and center, “freedom can only last if you and I choose to act as people of character.”
People are suffering. But the conservative, Christian people of Hillsdale College often elect to talk over that suffering rather than act as Christ did.
On the missions trip I noticed that underprivileged communities biggest needs are relational — just sitting and listening to a senior citizen or engaging with a child.
Senior Alexis Garcia, the GOAL Program Director, said while the culture of volunteerism at Hillsdale is flourishing, she said the child mentoring and tutoring programs are the most in need of volunteers. Yet volunteering with these programs is the easiest ways to give: Despite our young age and minimal life experiences, we can have so much to contribute to and invest in people.
To meet the ever-present and urgent need for engagement in the community of Hillsdale, we first need to go into the community. Second, we must stop dismissing people’s perspectives without seeking to understand them. I encourage you to listen to individuals and take their stories into account. We need to stop talking over each other and open up to productive conversation with the goal of learning more about individuals different from ourselves.
As Hillsdale students we will go on to wield a disproportionate amount of power — as we have seen in the Trump administration already. We need to be aware. We need to be responsible, self-governing citizens. We need to engage with the world.
We claim to pursue truth at Hillsdale. This would be the ultimate pursuit. One that doesn’t need books, but eyes and ears. We need to unleash the ideas that we learn and are challenged by in the classroom for the benefit of those who do not have the privilege to learn that we have.
Ms. Hurley is a senior studying sociology and social thought.