Reflection on Privilege: Talen Sehgal

I moved to the United States from Singapore at the beginning of my sophomore year. At the private school I attended in Singapore, every student’s family had a high income, enabling them to afford an expensive private school. For almost all students, money was merely an afterthought.

Moving from a sheltered environment like that to a public school, I realized that money is an actual issue for some students. I also observed that although race does play a role in providing one with privilege, it is not as large of a factor in economic privilege specifically.

In both Singapore and Princeton, the student bodies are very diverse, and both student governments are multiracial. For example, clubs in both schools are mandated to be nondiscriminatory, and students are permitted to join any and all clubs that they wish. Although strict rules are in place to theoretically eradicate racial privilege, it still occasionally rears its ugly head. In fact, friends have told me about situations during which they have felt discriminated against based solely on their race.

This racial discrimination is currently occurring in PHS clubs where only a few students are selected to compete in larger competitions, and some believe that their race is responsible for this. As a possible solution to this problem, the selection process should be completed by a non-biased third party on a purely quantitative level when possible. For this reason, legislation—such as the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act of 2010—is in place to eliminate privilege.

The economic factor leading to ‘privilege’ is more important than the racial factor, and is especially prominent when it comes to extracurricular activities. For almost every extracurricular in Singapore, if a sport or club placed in a local competition, students would pay to travel for higher levels of competition, and sometimes would go as far away as Washington D.C. Due to the equal economic status of those students, qualification was the only reason for competing. There was never any concern for the student without proper financial support.

In contrast, there is a certain group of students in Princeton without the financial resources to pursue competition at higher levels outside of Princeton. At this point comes the divide that produces privilege. Students in Princeton who are financially better off than others certainly benefit, as they are able to take advantage of resources that are not offered for free to the public.

The difference in mentality between Singapore and Princeton regarding the economic status of students creates a significant divide between the two cultures. The unfair advantage that some experience at PHS due to their financial statuses leads to an increased feeling of privilege. There should be more done to end this problem and level the playing field. Support from school administration and a higher level of awareness about the economic diversity at PHS would certainly help to remove privilege.

In high school, it is important that everyone is given the opportunity to participate at all levels. The privilege that some feel in high school is partially due to racial status, but heavily reliant on socioeconomic status, as the socioeconomic status of some students has real repercussions that diminish their ability to be as successful as possible.

graphic: Avery Hom

graphic by Annie Kim

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