Access Academy: Let's talk about privilege

On January 30th and 31st of 2017, Manchester high school students joined members of the Saint Anselm community for the Access Academy Open House. Access Academy is an after-school program run through the Meelia Center targeting refugee, immigrant, and underrepresented high school students in Manchester. This year, the Access Open House partnered with the Multicultural Center to host Martin Luther King, Jr. inspired activities.     

Zach Procek '17 and Hailey Grant '17 stand in front of a diverse crowd of high school and college students. Procek instructs everyone to crumble up a piece of paper into a ball. The crowd follows his instruction quizzically. Grant holds up a trash bin at the front of the room. Procek tells the crowd to stand up and throw their paper ball into the trash bin. But there is one catch: they cannot move from their place in the crowd. The students in the front row aim effortlessly and get their paper ball in the trash bin in one motion. The students toward the back deliberate on their method, aim carefully, and almost always miss.

"Who thought that was a fair activity?" Procek asks the crowd. A few students in the front row raise their hands while the students in the back are silent. This activity, Procek explains, represents the reality of privilege. Procek and Grant highlight the privilege of education. Every person in the room is granted access to an education- a privilege they should use to achieve their own dreams, as well as help others without this privilege achieve their dreams. Although, there are other privileges for the crowd to consider as well.

Candace Bonarrigo '19 guides a discussion for a group of students from Uganda and The Congo. Bonarrigo gets the students thinking about the challenges they may face in achieving their dreams. The students come to an agreement that having English as their second language has been a challenge. Despite the challenges they face, the students remain wildly passionate. Bonarrigo encourages the students to think about their craziest goals and dreams.

Isaac, an immigrant from The Congo and a long-time Access Academy student, puts on a large smile when Bonarrigo asks him what his dreams are. He gets lost in thought for a moment before telling the group that there are plenty of things he would like to do. "I might be a psychologist, maybe a musician." Bonarrigo suggests Isaac can be both at once, and the group laughs. The students go on to chat about why they are excited about their Access Academy programs. Some are passionate about Creative Writing, others about Student Action, and many about beginning Career and College Exploration.

The needs of immigrants, refugees, and those otherwise underrepresented are too often an afterthought in the United States. The exercise and discussion about privilege at the Open House recognizes that socioeconomic identity frequently dictates how many steps one needs to take to achieve their dreams.

Access Academy gives all students a chance to recognize the role of privilege, and challenges high school students to take an active role in their educational success and future. This semester, Access Academy is offering 7 high-school credit courses for Manchester students. These programs include Computer Literacy, Career Exploration, Creative Writing and Communication, College Admission, Environmental Studies, Humanities, and Student Action; each program is led by students from the Meelia Center, as well as other members of the Saint Anselm community.

Getting the paper ball into the trash bin can be difficult when you are in the back row. When those in the front recognize they can clear the way for those in the back, everyone succeeds. Take a moment to reflect on both the privileges and the challenges you face in your life. When we recognize our power and acknowledge our needs, we can more effectively help both ourselves and those around us.

Access Academy

Access Academy Presentations from Spring 2015.