School of Education faculty member hopes book sparks conversations on privilege

Sharon AndersonSharon Anderson, a professor in the Counseling and Career Development master’s degree program in Colorado State University’s School of Education, and her co-editor Valerie Middleton, a professor at University of Northern Colorado and CSU School of Education alumna (M.Ed., ’95; Ph.D., ’97), recently celebrated the publication of the third edition of their book, Explorations in Diversity: Examining the Complexities of Privilege, Discrimination and Oppression.

Through personal stories contributed by mental health professionals, professors and students around the country, readers have the opportunity to step into the experiences of others. The stories include coming to know one’s privilege, difficult conversations around privilege, painful experiences of discrimination and oppression.

“The goal of the book,” said Anderson, “is to encourage and negotiate conversations around issues regarding privilege and power.”

Explorations In Diversity Book JacketEarly conversations

Anderson’s journey into social justice conversations started with a friendship. As Anderson identifies as a white woman, she says conversations she’d had with friends about privilege and race were often uncomfortable. One of her close friends, who identifies as a black woman, confided to Anderson about her experiences living and working as a black woman in a southern state of the U.S. and her encounters with racism and privilege. Anderson was shocked, since she hadn’t experienced these issues and hadn’t recognized they still existed.

It wasn’t until Anderson and her co-writer Middleton shared an experience in which Anderson benefitted from her privilege firsthand that she recognized her identity gave her privilege in her life.

“In my area, counseling and psychology, we’re really good at talking and writing about discrimination and diversity,” said Anderson. “But we aren’t good about talking about our own privilege.”

Points of privilege

After that experience, Anderson and Middleton decided to publish a book that would detail individuals’ experience with coming to know their points of privilege. They asked contributors to submit essays about their experiences in their own words. Explorations in Diversity was born.

Not long after Anderson and Middleton finished the book and drafted a proposal, an editor from Brooks Cole accepted it. For the first edition, published in 2004, they asked contributors to submit their stories of privilege, which focused on issues regarding gender privilege, white privilege and economic privilege. After feedback from faculty, students and publishers, Middleton and Anderson revised the second edition asking for contributors to expand on their stories and going in-depth about their experiences. The second edition was published in 2010.

For the revised third edition, published in early 2018, the net was cast even broader in hopes of receiving submissions from people sharing their own stories of discrimination and oppression. Anderson and Middleton added new contributions, and contributors to the second edition updated their literature review, and new sections about understanding points of privilege were added.

Positive reactions

Feedback on the book has been positive. Anderson and Middleton use it in their respective classes, finding that it helps students to engage in conversations about discrimination and utilizing privilege to combat these issues. While these contributors chose to share their stories, the reader must take what they learn from the story and take action.

“We want you to be disturbed,” Anderson said. “We recognize the privilege that is offered to us and how we can use that place to invite other voices to better recognize discrimination.”

Creating a book that is full of difficult stories and topics has had its challenges, but Anderson has enjoyed the process of putting it all together. Talking with contributors, developing relationships with publishers and authors as they are putting their pieces together, and talking about their most vulnerable moments has been inspiring, she said. Her next projects include a book about choosing a therapist and one about ethics in counseling.

The School of Education is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.