Preparing Students for “The Real World”

“It’s impossible to know everything. Students need to develop tougher skin. They need to know that the real world isn’t going to cater to their need for “safe spaces.” We need to prepare them for the real world.”

Working in higher ed, I often hear statements like these from people who are passively or actively engaged in denying their own complicity; whose need to feel good and self-assured about themselves outweighs the reality that they need to change. I have seen how this mindset can be used to minimize the reality of the impact of microaggressions and other acts of institutional discrimination in the lives of students with marginalized identities.

Systems of oppression are designed to impact the lives of folks with marginalized identities regardless of how they might feel about themselves personally in terms of positive self-esteem, commitment, and whatever other traits are often used in law of attraction thinking as a deficit explanation for why individuals or groups aren’t in a certain place in life.


–From my note: “Positive Vibes Only”

Here’s the thing: students with marginalized identities are already well aware of how they are perceived in this world and the value that is not placed on their lives because of their identities.

They already recognize that they must navigate through systems that did not have them in mind in their inception, and are more often than not designed for their participation or success. In this way, they are much more in touch with how “the real world” actually works.

One of our greatest imperatives as educators for social justice lies in illuminating the awareness of the “safe spaces” that power and privilege create for people with multiple privileged identities.

One of our greatest imperatives as educators for social justice is to find ways to facilitate a process in which they are able to recognize their own criminal indifference to, and ignorance of the ways they are complicit with systems of oppression.

Instead of passively accepting victim blaming narratives that assumes the solution lies in students with marginalized identities developing “tougher skin” we must shift the focus to the difficult work of showing students with privileged identities that the world does not revolve around them; that it is they who will need to expand their worldview and critical consciousness; that it is them who will need to learn to navigate a world that is increasingly more diverse.

It is time to commit to shifting the narratives that assert their normality and superiority and commit to the work of teaching them how to decenter themselves. Because the comfort they have become accustomed to leaves them ill prepared to interact with the real “real world”.


From Aspiring Humanitarian, Relando Thompkins-Jones

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Relando Thompkins-Jones

I'm a Social Justice Educator and Aspiring Humanitarian who is interested in conflict resolution, improving intergroup relations, and building more equitable and inclusive communities. "Notes from an Aspiring Humanitarian" is my blog, where I write about issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. By exploring social identities through written word, film & video, and other forms of media, I hope to continue to expand and enrich conversations about social issues that face our society, and to find ways to take social action while encouraging others to do so as well in their own ways.

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