Harvard Says It Won’t Be Conducting ‘Check Your Privilege’ Training at Orientation

The student activist group “HKS Speak Out” falsely claimed that the Harvard Kennedy School will hold a required session during orientation about “checking” their personal power and privilege, the school says.

The activist group has said “the administration [is] on board for training all Harvard Kennedy School first years,” but the public-policy school’s director of media relations, Doug Gavel, says this isn’t accurate.

“The school currently offers a number of opportunities for students to discuss and learn about issues of diversity,” Gavel said. “We have certainly engaged in discussions with this student group on this issue and have told the students categorically that the school has no intention of offering a session on ‘power and privilege.’” The school will, however, be revamping its diversity training, he said.

Several publications reported the Kennedy School had agreed to hold a mandatory orientation event regarding the idea of “checking your privilege,” and Gavel said he doesn’t know how the misinformation spread or whether the students will be disciplined for spreading the falsehood.

Although HKS Speak Out won’t get an official role in orientation, the group said they still plan to hold “privilege training,” including a “privilege walk.”

A privilege walk involves a seminar that tells students what privilege is, after which students are placed in a line and asked to step forward or backward depending on whether they think they’re privileged based certain questions.

Anytown Alabama, a social-justice leadership camp for high-school students, held a privilege walk last year, which involved questions such as ”If you ancestors were forced to come to the USA, and didn’t come by choice, take one step back.”

Last month, HKS Speak Out held a privilege walk on campus that drew 77 participants. Reetu Mody, the activist group’s leader, told The New Yorker, “Resistance to discussing privilege comes from those who (mistakenly) believe it’s about making individuals feel guilty.” Count the Harvard administration in that category, apparently.

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