IN123 – Power and Privilege: A Reflection

My time at St. Francis House began very early in the morning. As I opened my eyes, I reminded myself that not only was I going to class today, but I was also going to help those in need of food and clothing. My first shift at St. Francis House, I served in the clothing department, where I had one-on-one conversations with the clients. What stood out the most for me was one of the first interactions I had with a client.

View of St. Francis House entrance from Boylston Street.

St. Francis House LogoI called out “thirteen,” and a woman approached the counter. She was quiet and shy. I asked her how she was and what type of clothing she needed today. She very kindly asked for a sweater, stating that it was starting to get chilly outside. That moment, I was not thinking about anything else, just listening to her and what she needed. When I brought the items she had requested, she thanked me and asked, “are you here for volunteer work?” I replied, “Yes.” The shy and quite woman began to walk away at this point while loudly and proudly saying, “God bless you good-hearted people.” As she walked away from the counter, I was left standing there with so many thoughts that I couldn’t focus on a specific one, so I postponed thinking and focused on my service.

St. Francis House works to provide clients the seasonally-appropriate clothing they need.

St. Francis House works to provide clients the seasonally-appropriate clothing they need.

As I called out the numbers, I realized each one of these numbers was an individual with unique stories and voices. I met people who were afraid to speak and people who were not at all afraid. Some of the clients caused trouble with their behaviors and others were extremely careful.

When my shift ended and I left St. Francis House, I was thinking about that woman, “thirteen.” As I waked into my Power and Privilege class, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone was wearing a sweater. I thought to myself, “I bet no one in our classroom asked if they could own a sweater.” The simple privilege of owning a sweater was just given to them and I bet no one had realized that this is a privilege. As we discussed if we could give up our privileges, or if it is even possible to stop using them, I found myself shaking my head. It is impossible to give up something that you do not even realize that you have and benefit from. That is the moment that I realized, if something so simple as owning a sweater could be a privilege, I cannot even imagine what kind of other privileges I have and am not aware of.

St. Francis House is dependent upon volunteers to sort, fold, and arrange clothing, as well as assist clients.

St. Francis House is dependent upon volunteers to sort, fold, and arrange clothing, as well as assist clients.

As I replayed the words of this woman, “thirteen,” a woman so shy that she wouldn’t tell me her name, but was quite the opposite of shy when she loudly said, “God bless you good-hearted people, God bless what do you for the people in our situation.” Someone addressed me as a “good-hearted” person. I felt I had to stick up for this label. With the situations we talk about in our class, the situations that need awareness, I became involved with other similar activities. I found myself listening to almost every announcement in the street. I listened to the people who are trying to raise awareness on specific topics. I started thinking of various ways of being involved with anything that could have a positive outcome. This experience at St. Francis House and the discussions we had in class, made me want to see people as individuals and not as a whole in society.

IN123 – Power and Privilege Reflection is offered by Claudia Castaneda through the Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies.

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