Privilege Creates a Different Starting Line in “Race to the Jobs”

Posted Sep 09, 2019

College is a unique microcosm of society where students from a variety of backgrounds come together in one place. Many times, students have not been exposed to people from backgrounds that differ from their own. I consider this an opportunity to teach my students at Otterbein University about social inequality and privilege.

In my Sociology of Sport course, I illustrate to students that the societal “playing field” isn’t always equal for everyone in visible or obvious ways. I use athletics as an entry point to teach them about the different privileges – or disadvantages – each of us have.

I take students to the football field, where everyone starts at the 25 yard line facing the end zone. Standing in the end zone, I represent each student’s dream job or career path. Then I proceed to read statements out loud – and if that statement applies to them, students take a step forward or step back, depending on the directions given. My statements range from “if you have immediate family members who are doctors, lawyers, or other professionals, take one step forward” to “if you were ever called names or ridiculed because of your race, ethnicity, or social class background, take one step backward.” Each of the statements read are beyond the students’ control.

Once I’m through reading all of the statements, I ask students to look around, noticing who is in front of them, who is behind them. Then they sprint to my position, and the first one to reach me is the winner of the race, representing the competition to the dream job.. However, through this activity, it’s clearly seen that not everyone had the same advantages as the others.

Before they begin the race to me in the end zone, ready to run toward their dream job, students are already noticing the advantages some have over others. It really begins to sink in once they look around and see how everyone is staggered across the field. There is no even starting line – we all start from positions on the field.

This Race to the Jobs activity, originally conceived by social justice activist Paul Kivel, becomes a springboard in our class for a better understanding of our own privilege and how we can all help create more opportunities for those who need help to overcome an obstacle. Doing this active learning makes it that much more impactful and poignant.

Taking a different approach to showing these issues can make a big difference in student’s perceptions. They open their minds up to new – and sometimes difficult or challenging concepts of privilege and oppression – becoming more self-aware. The students begin to see that, just as in our classroom discussions and course readings, not everyone can be a LeBron James, born into a relatively difficult situation, and rise to his level of success on luck or talent alone.

We need to examine our own privilege because if we don’t know who we are, we will never see our blind spots.

Kristy McCray, Ph.D., is an Otterbein assistant professor in sport management. Contact her if you have any questions or wish to arrange an interview.

Kristy McCray, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Sport Management

Kristy McCray is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Otterbein University in Westerville, OH

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