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Metro, University News

Workshop explores Brown’s relationship with Providence

Students benefit from political power, economic privilege, social capital, facilitators say

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 13, 2016

“The Swearer Center and Brown have a reputation of treating Providence as their playground,” said Olivia Veira ’17, one of facilitators of the workshop “Providence is Not Our Playground” at 85 Waterman Street Tuesday.

The workshop, also facilitated by Christine Blandhol ’17, Arria Lhaka ’18 and Samantha Reback ’16, aimed to discuss the University’s history of institutional power in the Providence community and the power students who attend the University wield as a result.

To start, audience members were asked to draw a map of Providence on a blank sheet of paper while the song “The Hood Ain’t the Same” by Draze — with lyrics detailing the effects of gentrification in Seattle — played in the background.

After three minutes of work time, Reback shared her own map and noticed, “the hill symbolically separates (the University) from the rest of Providence.” The workshop incorporated this exercise because students should be “aware of where we’re going, where we’re not going and why that may be,” she added.

The workshop then transitioned to discuss the oppressive structures from which the University draws power in the context of the Providence community. The University occupies land taken from Native Americans, actively participated in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and gentrified the Fox Point area in the East Side of Providence, Blandhol said.

The University also benefits from its tax-exempt status as a nonprofit organization even though Providence is in debt, she said, adding that the University owns $1 billion worth of property and should pay $38 million in property taxes each year.

Using an intersectional framework, facilitators then talked about the benefits that students receive from the University’s position in Providence. Once a student arrives on campus, they have “unearned privilege” that comes from the University’s oppressive presence, Lhaka said.

To detail this phenomenon, facilitators analyzed three major power structures to conceptualize the University’s privilege and the benefits that are then afforded to students: political power, economic privilege and social capital.

First, students benefit from political power — an unequal influence in the political system — because a high percentage of alums hold political offices and students frequently have internships in political fields in Rhode Island, Lhaka said.

Second, students receive economic privilege — “unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group” — when they ride RIPTA for free, have access to financial aid resources or even reserve a classroom to host a workshop, Lhaka said.

Last, students are beneficiaries of social capital, Veira said. For example, students have access to privileged alums, who connect students to job networks, thus reinforcing privilege and power, she added.

Audience members then offered insights into the ways they have experienced privilege from attending the University. A certain privilege accompanies the title “Ivy Leaguer,” which “thrives on marginalizing others,” one audience member said.

At the end of the workshop, facilitators expressed a desire to continue the dialogue raised during the workshop. It is important that students are thinking and “planning concrete actions” to recognize their privilege within Providence, Veira said.

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