By: Nate Gibson
On October 19th, a picture of a slideshow presented at UNC-Chapel Hill decrying ‘Right-Handed Privilege’ went viral on social media. The picture, far from being satire, was in fact part of a mandatory program presented by the UNC Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life (OFSL). Carolina Review obtained exclusive leaked audio of the event, summarized below.
At this hour-long meeting with representatives of all UNC’s Greek organizations in required attendance, political opinions on intersectional identity, systematic oppression through implicit biases, and identity-based privilege, were presented as fact on the University’s dime. Attendees were instructed to take notes and usage of electronic devices was prohibited, and Greek organizations were threatened with fines if they failed to send chapter representatives to the lecture. The speaker, Christina Parle, is an instructional designer for the company Social Responsibility Speaks and left-wing activist whose Instagram bio reads “if you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention.”
Ms. Parle started the presentation with an ‘indigneneous land recognition,’ after which the hundreds of Greek attendees were advised that they should make a habit of repeating the political catechism in their daily lives and taught how to do so. After establishing her lecture was on stolen land, Ms. Parle asked students their feelings about ‘the system.’ Were they warm towards it? Apathetic? Or, the last option: ready to dismantle it?
The first topic covered by Ms. Parle was the role of identity and the social constructs which define them, a subject which introduced the presentation and remained a focal point throughout. She emphasized that identity is a primary factor in life experience, explaining that identity guides “the way you navigate the world.” Students were instructed to write their intersectional identities, drawing from those provided which included characteristics like sex, (not to be confused with gender, of which both expression and identity were listed), sexual orientation, body size, and race.
Two main examples were presented to introduce the idea of privileged identities. “How many of you, when you go to the grocery store, need somebody to help you with the top shelf?” Ms. Parle asked the audience. “I’m that person,” she continued. “That is a system of oppression… it means that every grocery store, literally almost across the nation, was built for the average height person.” A silence amongst the crowd ensued. “How many of you are aware that there are some people who have to purchase two flight tickets in order to fit in a seat?” Ms. Parle questioned, continuing on the same topic. “That is a system of oppression, okay, because we have built our society for people who are average size,” she alleged. “And you may think, oh that’s silly. I bet you’re of average height and average size.” Having established this system as fact, the presentation moved onto the afflictions of left-handedness in the face of “right-handed privilege.”
Ms. Parle asserted that right-handed privilege is yet another system, explaining that it has “made left-handed people invisible by setting the standard.” A slide explaining the advantages of being aligned with systems of power and another on the privileges of right-handedness emphasized how “this system supports, empowers, and advantages the right folks,” while it “disempowers, or sometimes harms, the left folks.” After a moment of consideration, the labels of “right-handedness” and “right-handed privilege” were replaced with “whiteness” and “white privilege.” Next, the words “able-bodied” and “ability privilege” were shown, drawing a direct conflation between the various culprits of systematic harm.
Ms. Parle asked the audience, “what’s your one word reaction?” Students were silent for a moment, then began to raise their hands. “Concerned,” one said. “Guilty,” the second chimed in. “Convicted,” said another student. The last hand contributed “disappointed” to the list. After this exercise, the audience was instructed to turn to someone nearby and tell them one thing they wanted to commit to or do differently as a result of the activity. An awkward silence followed when Ms. Parle soon thereafter inquired what these commitments entailed. “Nothing?” she implored. This solicited a few hands to be raised.
Next, Ms. Parle instructed students to yell out their first thought upon seeing a series of images: a doctor in a hijab, an Asian child doing math, an amputee competing in the long jump, an overweight child eating a burger, and a boy playing with a pink doll house. Students yelled out inconspicuous answers such as “burger!” and “toys!” Visibly annoyed, Ms. Parle responded. “So here’s the deal, some of you are saying it out loud because you think it’s funny but realistically, all of your brains are doing things that are probably a lot more shitty [sic] than burgers and toys.” The innocent interpretations of these intentionally loaded photos was not sufficient for her presentation, and she became angered that the students failed to conform to her expectations of their prejudices.
At the conclusion of the lecture, a list of further resources such as The New Jim Crow, So You Want to Talk About Race?, and Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People were provided. Participants were also encouraged to consider their hidden prejudices via Harvard’s “Implicit Associations Test.”
“There’s no way the university should be funding [the event] in my opinion,” one attendee told Carolina Review on the condition of anonymity. The same student was disturbed by the “clear political undertones” present in a mandatory University event.
Another student described the ordeal as “uncomfortable.” “It seemed that the speaker was projecting her identity politics onto us,” he continued. Examples he listed included “lecturing us on