Racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism.

Roxanna Harlow, of the Department of Social Sciences at Carroll Community College, stood in front of a group in St. Paul's United Church of Christ pews, and talked about "isms."


"'Isms' aren't about individuals or good or bad people," she told the group. "They're about systems."

Harlow was the keynote speaker at the "What's All This Talk About Privilege?" conference Friday hosted by the Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality.

A group of nearly 100 people came together in St. Paul's UCC in Westminster to talk about privilege during the conference. The event included exercises talking about privilege, Harlow's speech and panel discussions.

The event opened with an exercise where participants talked about levels of privilege dealing with race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation and more. The activity, known as a privilege walk, asks people to take steps forward and back, depending on questions asked.

After the walk, the group debriefed.

Some said it made them feel a little uncomfortable or guilty, others enlightened. But most in attendance appeared to agree — the first step of trying to mitigate privilege was talking about it.

"Our structures set up different starting lines for different people," Pamela Zappardino, member of Carroll Citizens for Racial Equality, who hosted the event, told the group.

The group talked about some scenarios that could take away one's privilege, like having an accent or candidates not getting jobs because of their race or gender. They also talked about scenarios that could give someone privilege, like being a female while getting pulled over.

Zappardino also spoke about those who deny the existence of privilege — if a person doesn't recognize things that have given them privilege, they may not believe they exist, she said.

Veronica Dietz, of Westminster, said coming to Friday's event was interesting.

"I think any time different discussions like this are had, it's good, Dietz said.

While there was discussion during the debriefing that the turnout did not reflect the county's demographics — there were many women and people of color, though according to Census data, the county is 50.6 percent female and 92.6 percent white — Dietz said she wasn't sad there weren't more people there who may not necessarily understand privilege.

This type of event can bring like-minded people together to help understand the steps to dealing with privilege, and educating about it, she said. From there, they can take these ideas out to educate in a way that's not threatening, Dietz added.

"It's going to take some time," she said, for people to become educated and understand.


Carroll's NAACP President Jean Lewis said while she was happy with how the event was going so far, she'd hoped more people who didn't understand or were skeptical about privilege had shown up to take part in the discussions.

Charlie Collyer, a member of the Ira and Mary Zepp Center for Peace, said the conversations at the morning portion of the event were interesting.

"It's the kind of experience that may show you that each person has a unique story," Collyer said.

The conversations break down categories, he said. So often, talks about privilege can break people into groups, but the discussion happening Friday looked at all aspects of privilege and the different stories people had, he added.

And these types of conversations help to stop assumptions, Collyer said.

Someone can be trying just as hard as you are, he said, but they have roadblocks — that as someone with privilege you may not understand or imagine — that have prevented them from finding success.

"We don't know what we don't know about," he said.

A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Roxanna Harlow's name, and misidentified her department. This article has been updated to reflect the correct information.