Unpacking Power and Privilege in Pursuit of 21st Century “Super Skills”
By Jacki Banks, Manager, Industry Advising: Creative Industries, Georgetown University
Educators have identified four key skills students need to be successful in the 21st century. Commonly called the 4C’s or “Super Skills,” they include communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity. The “21st Century Skills” movement is fascinating, and you can learn more about it in the context of K-12 learning, or, more relevant for those of us in career services, against the backdrop of higher education.
As I was reading and reflecting on the National Education Association’s current guide to 21st century learning I recalled a workshop I attended, grounded in Peggy McIntosh’s research on cultural awareness, multicultural education, and relationship-building. Ms. McIntosh, a feminist and anti-racism activist, is the associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women and founder of The National SEED Project.
During the workshop, I participated in a challenge by choice activity based on Ms. McIntosh’s essay White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In a challenge by choice activity, a series of statements are read and participants are asked to stand or raise their hand when they agree with a given statement. To give you a sense of the workshop, read through the following statements and imagine when you might stand or raise your hand.
At my university, I can schedule meetings back to back, because I can get across campus easily
At my university, if someone says I’m articulate, it is an uncomplicated compliment.
At my university, my accomplishments are not perceived as representing the potential or the successes of my race.
At my university, it is easy to find mentors who share my social identity and understand the particular challenges I face.
At my university, if I am passionate about an issue in class or during a club meeting, I will not be judged “emotional” or “irrational.”
At my university, all documents, websites, and classroom management software are accessible to me, without accommodation.
As I held these four critical competencies in one hand and the ideas of power and privilege in the other, I realized that they cannot be siloed. They just can’t. If you don’t critically assess the lens through which you view the world, how can you effectively communicate or collaborate? In essence, you cannot achieve true mastery of these “Super Skills” without a healthy dose of self-reflection.
True self-awareness is a profound process. It’s not always easy or nice or fun. But, as career educators, isn’t it our obligation to help our students become better colleagues, better managers, and, ultimately, better leaders? If the answer is “yes,” then we need to focus on developing partnerships with departments on campus that help unpack issues of power and privilege. A Different Dialogue is one such program on Georgetown University’s campus. We should encourage students to actively engage in these opportunities so that they might become the compassionate leaders and global citizens that the workplace needs them to be.
Jacki Banks, LGSW, advises students in the creative industries at Georgetown University’s Cawley Career Education Center.