On Hyper-Consciousness of Privilege

A false notion of self within students at LUMS and beyond
I wanted to address this point which has been one of biggest obstacle in all struggles that students work for at LUMS. That is majority of students thinking that, “oh they are privileged”, and that’s why 1) they are safe; 2) and, they find it difficult to relate. While this has some truth in it, but the place the society is standing at the moment, this notion is like blinders that we must remove as soon as possible.
(Also, I wish I could write this in LUMS newspapers – there are two of those – but, the university administration requires their approval on the content before publishing which doesn’t make any sense because it’s obvious that they would not like any critique of themselves.)
First, let me briefly mention from where I got the phrase “hyper-consciousness of privilege”. In Ammar Ali Jan’s book launch at LUMS, organized by Hum-Aahang and PSC, someone asked this innocent question that “sir, you have talked about very important and serious issues, but at LUMS, most of us are privileged so how can we contribute to those?” and that’s when Jan used the phrase that this “hyper-consciousness of privilege” needs to be challenged. The way I understood it is that, the time when the issues of this society were faced only by the under-privileged is an abstract past in minds of certain people; the past that never happened. Because, today, even if you are from an upper middle-class, English-speaking person with western social capital, you can’t exercise your full right for freedom of speech. You also can’t identify with complex gender or religious identities openly. Moreover, you are highly vulnerable to anti-blasphemy violence. So perhaps privilege isn’t helping that much; certainly, protecting to some extent. But today, privilege for majority of people is just a self-perception, since things have gone too far; it’s just that they have not realized that.
The time when the issues of this society were faced only by the under-privileged is an abstract past in minds of certain people; the past that actually never happened.
Something similar is happening at LUMS.
Just starting with fees. It’d be at max only 15-20% students whose guardians can just throw amounts equivalent to LUMS fee (10 lac per year) and forget about it. But, for rest of the 50-60%, their parents or guardians work really hard to provide them with this education. Even then if they are careless about how it’s being spent, then this is not privilege, rather socially approved behavior that how privilege people are supposed to conduct themselves (by not taking much interest in actually the worth they are getting in return for what they paid, rather on psychological satisfaction).
Another aspect is of moral policing. It’s strange that LUMS is a service provider who morally police its customers. The other day, a girl was stopped on her way in LUMS and was asked that why is she wearing certain type of clothes, and then the person took photo of her student card and asked her not to do this again. Samia Altaf, who filed a case of sexist harassment against upper-admin at LUMS, repeatedly mentioned that how the administration wants to morally police students. They would say that can’t she do something about those couples sitting in windows, and she’d be surprised that is she sitting in LUMS or some Jamiat’s meeting. The question is, which privilege is saving the students from such regressive thought? Which privilege would save the students when the Disciplinary Committee will be forced by the admin to punish students on wearing certain clothes, sitting with friends, and making their choices themselves?
A related aspect is of safe space which is shrinking at LUMS overtime. I remember in my early years (three years back), it wasn’t that difficult or controversial to identify as non-hetero, or Ahmedi, or atheist, in public and even in LUMS Discussion Forum posts on Facebook. Now, there is a constant fear that some terrible thing might happen if they do so. It’s understandable that this is because of wider social political environment but what did the students, faculty, and admin, do to build a safe space? There are no prayer spaces for religious minorities, surveillance is constantly increasing, and restrictions on academic freedom are intensifying. And the question remains, which privilege is saving these “privileged” students?
Though the list is long, but let me end with this note that, the whole attitude of LUMS admin to rule by fear, that “oh, there will be disciplinary action against me,” “oh, someone would report me,” “someone would misquote me,” “I’ll get a PKR 5000 fine,” etc. All these aspects signal the authoritative attitude of administration. No one can ask them what they are doing. They can fire tens of janitors in a day, no one can question them. They can let go sexual harassers and abusers, no one can question them. They can expel students on first plagiarism offense, no one can question them. They can mishandle high profile sexist harassment cases, no one can question them. They can fire their provost in 8 hours, no one can question them. They can keep all classes online, save money, and yet increase fees, no one can question them. They can keep on making elite restaurants on campus which are afforded by hardly 40% of the student body, but no one can question them. And our question is same that in all these aspects, which privilege is saving these “privileged students”?
I was surprised when a few sophomores mentioned that “don’t get associated with #InvestigateLUMS trend. Don’t you know, even alumni can get disciplinary action against them and their degrees can get cancelled. And when you get associated with such activities, admin will keep an eye on you and will find other ways to make your experience hell at LUMS. Then if you’ll get 5% plagiarism, you’ll be expelled just like two students this semester.” I mean who are injecting such thoughts in our young batches? Is this a plot from 1984? And in all this, which privilege is saving these students from such virus of thoughts? They are forgetting that in 2016, when a talk was cancelled at LUMS, it was students who staged a protest in hundreds at Lalak Chowk in front of LUMS against the admin’s restrictions on freedom of expression and academic freedom.
But at this moment, the disregard of students towards their issues, this hyper-consciousness of privilege is a false notion of themselves because all these issues affect all students. Silence on mishandling harassment cases is paving the path for a hostile environment for women. Silence on admin’s refusal to install ventilation system saying they don’t have money has paved the path that even after two years, half of the classes are happening online. Silence on enrollment issues where students don’t get desired courses has made it possible that LUMS admin doesn’t hire more professors, they don’t offer more courses, they fill single classrooms with 70, 150, and even 300 students.
In the Twitter Space few days back, various people mentioned that in this neoliberal model, customers are supposed to have their say. But that’s infuriating that here even the customers are being ruled. The best strategy now is that everyone thinks again about their experience at their university and note where the institute went too far in its control over students. Raise those issues first with non-violence and peacefully. If they don’t hear, try non-violent non-cooperation. If that also doesn’t work, then turn your campus into another JNU.
I’ll end this piece on a quote from Arundhati Roy that, “can the hungry go on a hunger strike? Non-violence is a piece of theatre. You need an audience. What can you do when you have no audience? People have the right to resist annihilation.”

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