The Limits of White Privilege Pedagogy: A Reflective Essay on using Privilege Walks in the College Classroom

Main Article Content

Amy Dundon
Elisabeth Stoddard
Geoffrey Pfeifer
Nestor Noyola


The privilege walk is a pedagogical tool used to teach students about often-ignored aspects of privilege. Despite their popularity, privilege walks are under-examined in the scholarship of teaching and learning. This leaves open questions about the efficacy of the walk, and whether, and to what extent, the walk yields different results among students from different backgrounds. This paper critically examines the privilege walk by reflecting on our experience of teaching the walk and analyzing student learning reflections about the exercise. We draw on critical race theory to interpret our data and also to help introduce the concept of slippage. We use slippage as shorthand for systematic issues long described by critical race theorists, such as meritocracy, that are reframed as individual responsibilities. We conclude by discussing how educators might prioritize teaching about structural power by integrating ideas from critical race theory, and abandon intellectual traditions that center Whiteness or the individual.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Dundon , A. ., Stoddard , E. ., Pfeifer, G., & Noyola , N. . (2024). The Limits of White Privilege Pedagogy: A Reflective Essay on using Privilege Walks in the College Classroom . Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 24(1). Retrieved from
Reflective Essay


Alcoff, L. (2007). “Epistemologies of Ignorance: Three Types” in Shannon Sllivan and Nancy Tuana

eds. Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance. New York: SUNY Press.

Alexander, Q. R. & Hermann, M. A. (2015). African-American women's experiences in graduate science,

technology, engineering, and mathematics education at a predominantly White university: A qualitative investigation. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 9(4), 307-322.

Alon, S. and Tienda, M. (2007). Diversity, opportunity, and the shifting meritocracy in higher education. American Sociological Review, 72(4), pp.487-51. doi:10.1177/000312240707200401

Andreotti, V., Ahenakew, C. and Cooper, G., (2011). Epistemological pluralism: Ethical and pedagogical challenges in higher education. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 7(1), pp.40-50.

Appiah, K.A., Taylor, C., Habermas, J., Rockefeller, S.C., Walzer, M. and Wolf, S., 1994. Multiculturalism.

Arapah, E. (2016). Privilege Walk in CCU Class:'If in Your Family, Your Mom is working Mother and Your Dad is Househusband, Please Take One Step Back.

Balibar, Etienne and Immanuel Wallerstein. (1991). Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities. New York and London: Verso.

Bass, R (1999) The scholarship of teaching: what's the problem? Inventio: creative thinking about learning and teaching. Feb 1999 1(1):1-28

Benson Clayton, T. (2021). "Refocusing on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion During the Pandemic and Beyond: Lessons from a Community of Practice". Higher Education Today: a Blog by the American Council on Education.

Bell Jr, D.A., (1980). Brown v. Board of Education and the interest-convergence dilemma. Harvard law review, pp.518-533.

Bell, D. (1972). Meritocracy and equality. The Public Interest, 29. 29-68.

Bell, D. (2004). Silent covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the unfulfilled hopes for racial reform. Oxford University Press.

Bergerson, A.A., (2003). Critical race theory and White racism: Is there room for White scholars in fighting racism in education?. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 16(1), pp.51-63.

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2002). The Linguistics of Color Blind Racism: How to Talk Nasty about Blacks without Sounding “Racist.” Critical Sociology, 28(1–2), 41–64. doi:10.1177/08969205020280010501

Bonilla-Sliva, E.. (2017) [2006]. Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Inequality in America 5th Edition. New York and London: Rowman and Littlefield.

Braun, Virginia and Victoria Clarke. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology, Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3:2, 77-101. DOI: 10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Brock, C.H., Pennington, J.L. and Ndura, E. (2012). Using multimodality as a conceptual lens:

examining two teachers' learning in the Multiliteracies Teacher Institute Project. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 7(4), pp.275-294.

Cabrera, N.L., Watson, J.S. and Franklin, J.D. (2016). Racial arrested development: A critical Whiteness analysis of the campus ecology. Journal of College Student Development, 57(2), pp.119-134.

Cabrera, N L. (2017). White immunity: working through some of the pedagogical pitfalls of ‘White Privilege’” JSCORE: Journal Committed to Social Change on Race and Ethnicity 3(1): 77-90.

Cabrera N L. (2022). Cause and effect: critical Whiteness studies and the material consequences of Whiteness on communities of color. Internationalournal of Qualitative Studies in Education, pp 1-8.

Cabrera, N.L., (2012). A state-mandated epistemology of ignorance: Arizona's HB2281 and Mexican American/Raza Studies. Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 9(2), pp.132-135.

Calderón, D., (2011). Locating the foundations of epistemologies of ignorance in education ideology and practice. Epistemologies of ignorance in education, pp.105-127.

Chapman, T.K., (2008). Desegregation and multicultural education: Teachers embracing and manipulating reforms. The Urban Review, 40(1), pp.42-63.

Chen, Yea-Wen, and Brandi Lawless. (2018). "Rethinking “difficult” conversations in communication

instruction from an intercultural lens: Pedagogical strategies for “SWAP-ping” the communication classroom." Communication Studies 69, no. 4: 372-388.

Choi, J.A., (2008). Unlearning Colorblind Ideologies in Education Class. Educational Foundations, 22, pp.53-71.

Clarke, V., Braun, V. and Hayfield, N., (2015). Thematic analysis. Qualitative psychology: A practical guide to research methods, 222, p.248.

Clayton, T.B. (2021). “Refocusing on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion During the Pandemic and Beyond: Lessons from a Community of Practice.” Higher Education Today: A Blog by the American Council on Education.

Cochran-Smith, Marilyn. (1995) "Color blindness and basket making are not the answers: Confronting the dilemmas of race, culture, and language diversity in teacher education." American Educational Research Journal 32, no. 3: 493-522.

Cook-Sather, A., Abbot, S. and Felten, P. (2019). Legitimating reflective writing in SoTL:“Dysfunctional illusions of rigor” revisited. Teaching & Learning Inquiry, 7(2), pp.14-27.

Cranton, P. (2011). A transformative perspective on the scholarship of teaching and learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 30(1), 75-86.

Crenshaw, K.W. (1997). Color blindness, history, and the law in V Lubiano (ed), The House that Race Built. New York: Random House

Crenshaw, K W. (2011). Twenty years of critical race theory: Looking back to move forward commentary: Critical race theory: A commemoration: Lead article. Connecticut Law Review 117. Crenshaw, K.W. (2017). On Intersectionality: Essential Writings. New York: New Press.

Crenshaw, K.W. (2017). Race Liberalism and the Deradicalization of Racial Reform. Harvard Law Review: Race and the Law, Vol. 130, No. 9, p. 2298

Crowley, R.M. and Smith, W.L. (2020). A divergence of interests: Critical race theory and White privilege pedagogy. Teachers College Record, 122(1), pp.1-24.

DeCuir, J T and Dixson, A D. (2004). “So when it comes out, they aren’t that surprised that it’s there”: Using critical race theory as a tool of analysis of race and racism in education. Educational Researcher 33(5).

Delgado Bernal, D. (2002). Critical race theory, Latino critical theory, and critical raced-gendered epistemologies: Recognizing students of color as holders and creators of knowledge. Qualitative Inquiry

Delgado, R. (1989). Storytelling for oppositionists and others: A plea for narrative. Michigan Law Review, 87(8), pp.2411-2441.

Delgado, R. and Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical race theory. In Critical Race Theory (Third Edition). New York University Press.

Delgado, Richard and Stefancic, Jean, "Critical race theory: the cutting edge" (2013). Books. 14.

Divan, A., Ludwig, L.O., Matthews, K.E., Motley, P.M. and Tomljenovic-Berube, A.M. (2017). Survey of research approaches utilised in the scholarship of teaching and learning publications. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 5(2), pp.16-29.

Doane, A., (2017). Beyond color-blindness:(Re) theorizing racial ideology. Sociological Perspectives, 60(5), pp.975-991.

Tate, S. A., & Page, D. (2018). Whiteliness and institutional racism: Hiding behind (un) conscious bias. Ethics and Education, 13(1), 141-155.

Fanghanel, J. (2013). Going public with pedagogical inquiries: SoTL as a methodology for faculty professional development. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 1(1), pp.59-70. doi:10.2979/teachlearninqu.1.1.59

Felton, Peter. (2013). "Principles of Good Practice in SoTL" in Teaching and Learning Inquiry. 1(1) 121-125.

Ford, K.A. (2012). Shifting White ideological scripts: The educational benefits of inter-and intraracial curricular dialogues on the experiences of White college students. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 5(3), p.138.

Foster, K.M. (2005). Diet of disparagement: The racial experiences of Black students in a

predominantly White university. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 18(4), pp.489-505.

Gallagher, C.A., (2003). Color-blind privilege: The social and political functions of erasing the color line in post race America. Race, Gender & Class, pp.22-37.

Gillborn, D. (2006). Critical race theory and education: Racism and anti-racism in educational

theory and praxis. Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education, 27(1), pp.11-32.

Gillborn*, D., (2005). Education policy as an act of White supremacy: Whiteness, critical race theory and education reform. Journal of education policy, 20(4), pp.485-505.

Gillborn, D. and Ladson-Billings, G., 2010. Critical race theory. International encyclopedia of education, 6, pp.341-347.

Gillespie, D., Ashbaugh, L. & DeFiore, J. (2002). White women teaching White women about White

privilege, race cognizance and social action: Toward a pedagogical pragmatics. Race Ethnicity and Education, 5(3), pp.237-253.

Gilmore, R.W. (2008). Forgotten places and the seeds of grassroots planning. In C. Hale (ed). Engaging contradictions:Theory, politics, and methods of activist scholarship, pp.31-61.

Gilroy, P. (1993). The black Atlantic: Modernity and double consciousness. Harvard University Press.

Gordon, J. (2005). Inadvertent complicity: Colorblindness in teacher education. Educational Studies, 38(2), pp.135-153.

Guillen, L. and Zeichner, K. (2018). A university-community partnership in teacher education from the

perspectives of community-based teacher educators. Journal of Teacher Education, 69(2), pp.140-153. doi:10.1177/0022487117751133

Grinage, J., (2020). Singing and dancing for diversity: Neoliberal multiculturalism and White epistemological ignorance in teacher professional development. Curriculum Inquiry, 50(1), pp.7-27.

Hall , S. (1980). “Race, Articulation and Societies Structured in Dominance.” In Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader H. A. Baker , M. Diawara & R. H. Lindeborg (eds). Chicago, IL , University of Chicago Press.

Hanasono, L.K. (2022). Teaching students about intersecting identities, privilege, and communication during and after the COVID-19 crisis. Communication Teacher, 36(2), pp.83-87.

Hendricks, L., Edwards, W., Tietjen-Smith, T. and Reysen, S. (2021). College students’ awareness and familiarity with modern activism: Prosocial involvement in Black Lives Matter. Journal of

Human Behavior in the Social Environment, pp.1-14.

Hiraldo, P. (2010). The Role of Critical Race Theory in Higher Education. The Vermont Connection, 31(1).

Holmes, A.G. (2020). Researcher Positionality: A Consideration of its Influence and Place in Qualitative Research. A New Researcher Guide. Shanlax International Journal of Education 8(4) 1-10.

Hudson, N.J., (2020). An In-Depth Look at a Comprehensive Diversity Training Program for Faculty. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 14(1), p.3.

Hubball, H., & Clarke, A. (2010). Diverse Methodological Approaches and Considerations for SoTL in Higher Education. The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1 (1).

James-Gallaway, C.D. and James-Gallaway, A.D., (2022). Why Opportunity Isn't Enough: Restrictive v. Expansive Views of Equality, Texas Top Ten Percent Policy, and Race Liberalism. The Professional Educator, 45(1), pp.1-12.

Jay, M., (2003). Critical race theory, multicultural education, and the hidden curriculum of hegemony. Multicultural Perspectives: An Official Journal of the National Association for Multicultural Education, 5(4), pp.3-9.

Kernahan, C. and Davis, T. (2007). Changing perspective: How learning about racism influences student awareness and emotion. Teaching of Psychology, 34(1), pp.49-52.

Kim, R. (2021). Under the Law: ‘Anti-critical race theory’ laws and the assault on pedagogy. Phi Delta Kappan, 103(1), pp.64-65. doi:10.1177/00317217211043637

Kumasi, K. (2017). Teaching about Race in Cyberspace: Lessons from the “Virtual Privilege Walk”

Exercise. In Cooke, N. & Sweeney, M. (Eds). Teaching for Justice: Implementing Social Justice n the LIS Classroom. (195-216). Library Juice Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. and Tate, W.F., (1995). Toward a critical race theory of education. Teachers college record, 97(1), pp.47-68.

Lawrence III, C.R., (2001). Two View of the River: A Critique of the Liberal Defense of Affirmative Action. Colum. L. Rev., 101, p.928.

Lawrence, K. and Keleher, T., (2004), November. Structural racism. In Race and Public Policy Conference.

Leach, C. W., Iyer, A., Pedersen, A. (2006). “Anger and guilt about ingroup advantage explain the

willingness for political action.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32, 1232–1245. doi:10.1177/0146167206289729 Lensmire, T., McManimon, S., Tierney, J.D., Lee-Nichols, M., Casey, Z., Lensmire, A. and Davis, B.,

(2013). McIntosh as synecdoche: How teacher education's focus on White privilege undermines antiracism. Harvard Educational Review, 83(3), pp.410-431

Leonardo, Z. (2004). “The color of supremacy: beyond the discourse of ‘White privilege.’” Educational Philosophy and Theory 36(2).

Liu, A. (2011). Unraveling the myth of meritocracy within the context of US higher education. Higher Education. 62:383-397.

Lynn, M. and Dixson, A.D. eds., (2013). Handbook of critical race theory in education (pp. 181-194). New York, NY: Routledge.

Martinez, M.A. (2015). Engaging aspiring educational leaders in self-reflection regarding race and privilege. Reflective Practice, 16(6), pp.765-776.

Matias, C.E. and Boucher, C. (2021). From critical Whiteness studies to a critical study of Whiteness: restoring criticality in critical Whiteness studies. Whiteness and Education, pp.1-18. doi: 10.1080/23793406.2021.1993751

Manning, A, D Hartmann, J Gerteis. (2015). Colorblindness in Black and White: An analysis of core tenets, configurations, and complexities. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. 2015;1(4):532-546. doi:10.1177/2332649215584828

Magana, GJ. (2017). Reactions to the privilege walk: An exploratory study. Electronic Theses, Projects, and Dissertations. 581

Margolin, L. (2015). Unpacking the invisible knapsack: The invention of White privilege pedagogy Cogent Social Sciences 1(1). doi: 10.1080/23311886.2015.1053183

Matsuda, M.J., (2018). Public response to racist speech: Considering the victim’s story. In Words that wound (pp. 17-51). Routledge.

McBride, D.A., (2004). can the queen speak? Racial Essentialism, Sexuality, and the Problem of Authority: Racial Essentialism, Sexuality, and the Problem. In The Black studies reader (pp. 355-370). Routledge.

McGee, E.O. (2020). Interrogating structural racism in STEM higher education. Educational

Researcher, 49(9), pp.633-644. doi:10.3102/0013189X20972718

McIntosh, P., (1988)a. White privilege and male privilege: A personal account of coming to see

correspondences through work in women's studies (Vol. 189). Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, Center for Research on Women.

McIntosh, P., (1988)b. White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack.

McNamee, S.J. and Miller, R.K. (2009). The meritocracy myth. Rowman & Littlefield.

Melamed, J., (2006). The spirit of neoliberalism: From racial liberalism to neoliberal multiculturalism. Social text, 24(4), pp.1-24.

Melamed, J., (2011). Represent and destroy: Rationalizing violence in the new racial capitalism. U of Minnesota Press.

Mills, C W. (1997). The Racial Contract. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Mills, C.W., (2008). Racial liberalism. Pmla, 123(5), pp.1380-1397.

Mills, C W. (2012 [2007]). “White Ignorance” in Tuana, N (ed) Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance. Albany: SUNY Press

Mills, C.W.,(2017). Black rights/White wrongs: The critique of racial liberalism. Oxford University Press.

Mijs, J.J.B. (2016). The Unfulfillable Promise of Meritocracy: Three Lessons and Their Implications forJustice in Education. Soc Just Res 29, 14–34. 10.1007/s11211-014-0228-0

Mijs, J.J. and Savage, M., (2020). Meritocracy, elitism and inequality. The Political Quarterly, 91(2), pp.397-404.

Mitcham C., Newberry B. eds. (2015). International Perspectives on Engineering Education. Philosophy of Engineering and Technology, vol 20. Springer Cham.

Mowat, R. (2021). Making Monsters: The Myths in Teaching About White Supremacy. The Journal of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. 21(4).

National Association of School Psychologists. (2016). Understanding Race and Privilege [handout]. Bethesda, MD: Author.

Nelson, C.E. (2010). Dysfunctional Illusions of Rigor: Lessons from the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. To Improve the Academy, 28(1), pp.177-192.

Neville, H.A., Gallardo, M.E. and Sue, D.W. eds. (2016). The myth of racial color blindness:

Manifestations, dynamics, and impact. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Nunes, L. (2021). New directions for diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education. Observer, Association for Psychological Science - APS.

Omi, M., and H Winant. (2015). Racial Formation in the United States. 3rd ed. New York: Routledge.

Oropeza Fujimoto, M. & Fujimoto, E. (2016). CSU Fullerton, U.S.A.; I-Chen Huang -- Wenzao Uruline College of Languages, Taiwan. (Responding to Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by McIntosh, P. 1988 and extending the work of Yosso, T. 2005.) (REVISED JULY 2016).

Parker, L., (1998). 'Race is race ain't': An exploration of the utility of critical race theory in qualitative research in education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 11(1), pp.43-55.

Parker, M., Jason T. Black, Helen H. Hu, Colleen M. Lewis. (2019). “Exploring our Privilege: Activities and Discussions” SIGCSE '19: Proceedings of the 50th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education February 2019 Pages 651–652.

Parker, L. and Stovall, D.O., (2004). Actions following words: Critical race theory connects to critical pedagogy. Educational philosophy and theory, 36(2), pp.167-182.

Patton, L D. (2016). Disrupting postsecondary prose: Toward a critical race theory of higher education.Urban Education. 51(3):315-342.

Pennington, J L, C H Brock, E Ndura. (2012). Unraveling the threads of White teachers’ conceptions ofcaring: Repositioning privilege. Urban Education 47(4):743-775.

Phillips, A., (2002). Multiculturalism, universalism, and the claims of democracy. Gender, justice, development, and rights, 7, pp.115-140.

Rosa, J. and Díaz, V., (2020). Raciontologies: rethinking anthropological accounts of institutional racism and enactments of White supremacy in the United States. American Anthropologist, 122(1), pp.120-132.

Rothman, T., Malott, K.M. and Paone, T.R., (2012). Experiences of a course on the culture of Whiteness in counselor education. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 40(1), pp.37-48.

Sarigianides, S T and A Banack. (2021). A call to critically reconsider popular antiracist activities. English Journal, High School Edition; Urbana 110(4):18-20

Sassi, K and E E Thomas. (2008). Walking the talk: Examining privilege and race in a ninth-grade classroom. National Council of Teachers of English 97 (6): 25-31

Siliman, S and K Kearns. (2020). Intersecting approaches to teaching about privileges Radical Teacher 116:47-54.

Silverman, K., (2013). Lessons in injustice: privilege walks. The Intellectual Standard, 2(2), p.3.

Slaton, A E. (2015). Meritocracy, technocracy, democracy: Understandings of racial and gender equity inAmerican engineering education. In: Byron Newberry, Carl Mitcham, Martin Meganck, Andrew Jamison, Christelle Didier & Steen Hyldgaard Christensen (eds.), International Perspectives on Engineering Education. Springer Verlag.

Stein, S., (2020). ‘Truth before reconciliation’: the difficulties of transforming higher education in settler colonial contexts. Higher Education Research & Development, 39(1), pp.156-170.

Sullivan, Shannon and Nancy Tuana. (2007). Race and Epistemologies of Ignorance. New York: SUNY Press.

Solomona, R.P., Portelli, J.P., Daniel, B.J. and Campbell, A., (2005). The discourse of denial: How White teacher candidates construct race, racism and ‘White privilege’. Race ethnicity and education, 8(2), pp.147-169.

Swan, E., (2010). States of White ignorance, and audit masculinity in English higher education. Social Politics, 17(4), pp.477-506. doi:10.1093/sp/jxq016

Sweat, J. Jones, G. Han, S., Wolfgram, S. (2013) "How Does High Impact Practice Predict Student Engagement? A Comparison of White and Minority Students," International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Vol. 7: No. 2, Article 17.

Tate IV, W.F., (1997). Chapter 4: Critical race theory and education: History, theory, and implications. Review of research in education, 22(1), pp.195-247. doi:10.2307/1167376

Tate, S.A. and Page, D., 2018. Whiteliness and institutional racism: Hiding behind (un) conscious bias. Ethics and Education, 13(1), pp.141-155.

Taylor, E., Gillborn, D. and Ladson-Billings, G., (2009). Foundations of critical race theory in education.

Tevis, T.L., Martinez, J.G. and Lozano, Y.E., (2022). Disrupting White hegemony: A necessary shifttoward adopting critical approaches within the teaching and learning environment.International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, pp.1-15.

Vaught, S.E. and Castagno, A.E., (2008). “I don't think I'm a racist”: Critical Race Theory, teacherattitudes, and structural racism. Race Ethnicity and education, 11(2), pp.95-113.

Villalpando, O. (2004). Practical considerations of critical race theory and Latino critical race theory forLatino college students. New Directions for Student Services 2004(105):41-50.

Wang, K.T., Castro, A.J. and Cunningham, Y.L., (2014). Are perfectionism, individualism, and racial

color-blindness associated with less cultural sensitivity? Exploring diversity awareness in White prospective teachers. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 7(3), p.211.

Williams, P.J., (1991). The alchemy of race and rights. Harvard University Press.

Wilton, L.S., Apfelbaum, E.P. and Good, J.J., (2019). Valuing differences and reinforcing them: Multiculturalism increases race essentialism. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 10(5), pp.681-689.

Yosso*, T.J., (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race ethnicity and education, 8(1), pp.69-91.