EDH 545 – Issues of Power and Privilege

Instructor: Dr. David I. Backer
Office: Wayne 930
Course Hours: Wednesday, 425-710pm
Room: Wayne 803
e-mail: dbacker@wcupa.edu
Office Hours: Monday 2-330pm (McDermott); Tuesday 3-530pm; Wednesday 3-4
University Emergency Number: 610-436-3311

Course Description: This course will explore issues of power and privilege in American higher education in relation to program and policy development.  Students will develop the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to become culturally competent educators and practitioners in higher education. Students will understand the importance of advocating for policies and practices that result in creating and sustaining an inclusive campus community.

Course Objectives

1. Develop an understanding of the concepts and practice of diversity, inclusion, power and privilege in higher education as it relates to access, retention, completion and excellence

2. Discuss and analyze trends in higher education as they relate to issues of equity and diversity.

3. Apply knowledge of the effects of power, privilege, diversity and inclusion in policy and program development that lead to student success.

4. Identify concepts, policies and challenges related to gender, gender-identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ability and religious differences among students, faculty, staff and other stakeholders in postsecondary settings.

5. Advocate for policies and practices that create an inclusive campus climate.

Essential questions: How is the university a terrain of struggle? In what ways does the university reproduce power and privilege in society, and how do students, faculty, and staff struggle against that reproduction? To whom or what does the university respond? How do structural forces shape policy and practice in higher education, and how do policies and practice in turn shape those forces? What should student affairs professionals think about activism, and student activism?


There are no required textbooks for the class. All course readings will be available here on this syllabus website  (or via email)

Note on readings: they are philosophical. They may be difficult or hard to understand. When it comes to thinking about these readings, and how you treat yourself as you read them, don’t use a deficit approach to studying the texts. Read the whole thing from start to finish and pay more attention to what you do understand than what you don’t. Focus on the ideas that emerge for you, and how they emerge. Write about them in your FSA papers. No one will understand it all, but we can get together and talk and further our understandings. That’s what class discussion is for.

Course Schedule

Date                                                   Course material                                      Due




Close reading exercise: Elisa S. Abes, “Situating Paradigms in Student Development Theory,” pp. 9-16. Abes-Situating Student Develpment Theory

What are “power and privilege”?

Students topple Silent Sam statue


Theme 1:


READ: Beginner’s Guide to Interpellation – David I. Backer: Beginners Guide to Interpellation pamphlet


Bulcowisz mattress project/action at Columbia University

“Matthew 24 Return to WCU”

9/12 READ: Louis Althusser, “On Ideology,” from On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Althusser – On Ideology


Brock Turner case + Victim’s Testimony


Theme 2:


READ: Ken, Ivy. “Sugar Metaphor for Intersectionality” Ivy – 2008 – Beyond the Intersection A New Culinary Metaphor for Race-Class-Gender Studies


Harvard Students Support Campus Workers’ Strike

How Students Helped Striking Workers

Theme 1 Reflection  Piece (required)

**All work in Dr. Backer’s class should be submitted to personal folders in the course Google Drive folder, linked here.


Theme 3:

Inclusion and Diversity

READ: Sara Ahmad, Excerpts from On Being Included, Chps 1+2: On Being Included_ Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life


West Chester University Office of Social Equity

West Chester University fact book

Theme 2 Reflection Piece

Theme 4:

READ: David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Introduction: HarveyNeolibIntro

READ: Wendy Brown (2nd to last chapter, “Educating Human Capital”) Selections: BrownEducatingHumanCapital


Ivory Tower

Theme 3 Reflection Piece

Theme 5:

The Decolonial University


READ: Linda Alcoff, Educating with a (De)Colonial Consciousness Alcoff Decolonial

READ: La Paperson, “A Third University Exists in the First,” in A Third University is PossibleLaPaperson – Chapter 3


Interview with Ariana Gonzalez-Stokas

Theme 4 reflection




Theme 6:


READ: Andrew Ross,
Creditocracy, “Educating Free People,” PDF: RossCreditocracyApplicationsWomen’s Student Debt Crisis in the United States
Theme 5 reflection

Midterm Grade Survey


Theme 7:
Demanding Resistance

READ: The Movement for Black Lives Platform (Intro + Education plank)

READ: The Debt Collective, “Take, Remake, Liberate.”


Application: The Debt Collective, Corinthian


Theme 6 reflection

Theme 8:
Cheney University


Cheyney – Reading Group

10/31: READ Chapters 1-3 (Group 1 lead)

11/7: READ Chapters 4-6 (Group 2 lead)

11/14: READ Chapters 7-10 (Group 3 lead)

Assigned chapters of the history of Cheyney State

Thesis Studio

Theme 7 reflection


Cheyney – The Present

Group 1:

Click to access sto68525CheyneyUniversity121014.pdf

Group 2:

Click to access Act2016CH.pdf

Group 3: https://www.cheyney.edu/institutional_research/documents/Cheyney%20University%20Task%20Force%20Report_5302017.pdf AND https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/cheyney-university-3317


12/5 Research and writing workshop Annotated Bibliography for your final.
12/12 Presentations Final paper due

Assignments (for Dr. Backer’s students, please turn everything in by uploading to your personal folder in our course Google Drive).

Theory Reflection Pieces

Students will write three page theory reflection pieces. There are five themes in the class. Students have choice of which three themes they want to write on. Students should not only summarize the theory, but also interpret it, and apply it to their Thematic Concern.

Final Paper 

Apply a theoretical framework from the course readings to your thesis topic.

Pick a framework from the course readings (diversity, neoliberalism, ideology, decolonialism) and apply that framework to your thesis topic. Review key sources you’ve found for your thesis and apply the framework to those sources.

Length: 10-12 pages

Suggestion: Spend 3-4 pages on the theoretical framework, 7-8 on thesis material application.


I will send out a grade proposal survey at the midpoint and end of the semester. Students will take the measure of their own learning with this survey and propose a grade, with which I will agree or disagree.

While no given assignment will be worth any amount in particular, the percentages below are suggestions to help you think about self-evaluation as part of this process.

4 Theory Reflection Pieces                                              35%
1 Individual thematic concern paper                           35%
Overall attendance and participation                           30%

Course Attendance Policy

Remember, you’re going to propose your grade to me for your work in this class. If you’re not in class, you’ll have a harder case to make for a good grade. If something comes up for you and you have to miss class, all I ask is that you tell me about it beforehand. Send me an email saying you won’t be there, or you’ll be late.

Late Work

Again, you’ll have to propose a grade to me. If work is late it’ll be harder to make a case for a good grade.

Religious Observances

All students have a right to expect that the University will reasonably accommodate their religious observances, practices and beliefs.  In accordance with this policy, I expect you to notify me in writing if you intend to be absent for a class or announced examination.

Food and Housing Security

When students face challenges securing food and/or housing, it can be difficult to learn. If you are in this situation, please contact the Dean of Students. If you feel comfortable, please also let me know, and I will do what I can to connect you with appropriate resources. Our campus offers various services and supports for students; know that you are not alone in dealing with these issues.


Many students have care responsibilities for a child in their life, whether as a parent, an older sibling, cousin, etc. If your childcare needs ever come into conflict with the course schedule, please don’t feel as though you need to miss class. I understand that sometimes plans fall through. If this happens, you are welcome to bring a child to class with you. I simply ask that you bring materials to keep them busy (e.g., a book, drawing materials, etc.), and remain mindful of your classmates. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Statements Common to All WCU Graduate Syllabi:


It is the responsibility of each student to adhere to the university’s standards for academic integrity. Violations of academic integrity include any act that violates the rights of another student in academic work, that involves misrepresentation of your own work, or that disrupts the instruction of the course. Other violations include (but are not limited to): cheating on assignments or examinations; plagiarizing, which means copying any part of another’s work and/or using ideas of another and presenting them as one’s own without giving proper credit to the source; selling, purchasing, or exchanging of term papers; falsifying of information; and using your own work from one class to fulfill the assignment for another class without significant modification. Proof of academic misconduct can result in the automatic failure and removal from this course. For questions regarding Academic Integrity, the No-Grade Policy, Sexual Harassment, or the Student Code of Conduct, students are encouraged to refer to the Department Graduate Handbook, the Graduate Catalog, the Ram’s Eye View, and the University website at http://www.wcupa.edu.


If you have a disability that requires accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), please present your letter of accommodations and meet with me as soon as possible so that I can support your success in an informed manner. Accommodations cannot be granted retroactively. If you would like to know more about West Chester University’s Services for Students with Disabilities (OSSD), please visit them at 223 Lawrence Center. The OSSD hours of Operation are Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Their phone number is 610-436-2564, their fax number is 610-436-2600, their email address is ossd@wcupa.edu, and their website is at http://www.wcupa.edu/ussss/ossd.


West Chester University and its faculty are committed to assuring a safe and productive educational environment for all students. In order to meet this commitment and to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and guidance from the Office for Civil Rights, the University requires faculty members to report incidents of sexual violence shared by students to the University’s Title IX Coordinator, Ms. Lynn Klingensmith. The only exceptions to the faculty member’s reporting obligation are when incidents of sexual violence are communicated by a student during a classroom discussion, in a writing assignment for a class, or as part of a University-approved research project. Faculty members are obligated to report sexual violence or any other abuse of a student who was, or is, a child (a person under 18 years of age) when the abuse allegedly occurred to the person designated in the University protection of minors policy.  Information regarding the reporting of sexual violence and the resources that are available to victims of sexual violence is set forth at the webpage for the Office of Social Equity at http://www.wcupa.edu/_admin/social.equity/.


All students are encouraged to sign up for the University’s free WCU ALERT service, which delivers official WCU emergency text messages directly to your cell phone.  For more information, visit http://www.wcupa.edu/wcualert. To report an emergency, call the Department of Public Safety at 610-436-3311.


It is expected that faculty, staff, and students activate and maintain regular access to University provided e-mail accounts. Official university communications, including those from your instructor, will be sent through your university e-mail account. You are responsible for accessing that mail to be sure to obtain official University communications. Failure to access will not exempt individuals from the responsibilities associated with this course.


I am a member of APSCUF, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties. We uphold the highest standards of teaching, scholarly inquiry, and service. We are an organization that is committed to promoting excellence in all that we do to ensure that our students receive the best education. Ask me for more information on what APSCUF does for students, and see http://www.apscuf.org or http://www.facebook.com/APSCUF.