Opinion: Power, Place and Privilege

Mary Garnier’s nursing school photograph, 1992.

As I stare down my own graduation, I cannot help but feel I owe IUPUI everything. My mother’s decision to get a nursing degree from IUPUI in the 1990s was hers alone. But this university’s accessibility helped her to enter the medical field and become the primary breadwinner of my family. My status as a legacy graduate has given me serious privilege that I need to unpack and tackle–and I am not alone in this.

My mom’s hard work in a well-paying field let me grow up with financial security; she has helped me graduate from IUPUI with two degrees. She has helped all the patients she’s treated as an RN and nurse practitioner. I’m proud of her.

My older brother also graduated from IUPUI; my family is a blooming legacy success story by the university’s standards. If I lived on campus as a freshman, I might have been the ideal student in the eyes of admissions.

IUPUI’s presence in Indianapolis gave my family and myself privilege. But this presence came at a cost: basically the entire near west side and almost all the people who once lived here. I’m quick to rail the university about its lack of accountability on this matter. This displacement was one of many ways racism manifests on a structural level.

What happened to the near west side is not my fault; it’s not any other student or staff or faculty member’s fault. But systemic inequality lives through me whether I like it or not. As with thousands before me, my tuition supported this university and benefitted me at a community’s expense. I have to grapple with that.

I wish I learned IUPUI’s history when I started as a freshman. I would still have attended. The higher tuition elsewhere in Indianapolis, stigma against community colleges, and necessity to get a bachelor’s are really good motivators. But knowing how one participates in systemic inequality is the first step to reducing harm. Reflecting on my personal benefits at this cost matters.

IUPUI is far from special in its unsavory history, but doing the bare minimum of talking about this injustice on an institutional level would be great. That has a trickle-down effect. I knew about the basics of privilege before I learned this story, but it wasn’t until afterwards I understood how simple it is to look past it.  

I don’t mean to simplify the intricacies of inequalities. Being white means my family was never segregated to a particular part of town and then displaced. Access to higher education is a privilege in and of itself. I’m happy to have made it through and walk in just two short weeks.

I have no clue as to what I’ll do for the rest of my life, but I do know this: it’s my responsibility to fight systemic inequality. That means going beyond reflecting on my privilege. It entail community-engaged, equity-oriented praxis. I’m prepared for the long road because of my education.

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