Leadership Voice: Sue Borrego

Growing up “downriver” of Detroit, she was emancipated at 15. She had no health insurance, no dental insurance, and no home address – because she had no permanent home back then. During her early days in college, she worried what would happen when the academic year wrapped up. Students couldn’t stay in the residence halls over the summer months.

Meet Dr. Sue Borrego, chancellor of the University of Michigan-Flint. In this insightful, deeply personal and sometimes raw TedX talk sponsored by Pasadena Women, she uses her early experience to share what she learned about the idea of “white privilege,” what it has come to mean to her and her family, and what society can do to learn from it.

Sue recalled first stumbling into a fraught sophomore classroom conversation about Black urban family characteristics, and the confusion of not understanding that there were distinctions between her experience growing up in urban poverty and those experienced by people of color.

She was just beginning to come to grips with activist Peggy McIntosh’s concept of “the invisible package of unearned benefits.”

Chancellor Borrego’s lessons in privilege became personal when her daughter married an African American man, and she has seen up close what it means for him and her mixed-race grandchildren to navigate in a world that can often presume against them, and render them “less than.”

“We can make these experiences different, and better. We can learn to unpack that ‘invisible, unearned package of privilege’ in service of a more humane and just world,” she told the audience.

In sharing her personal story with such candor, she offers both insight and optimism that a deeper understanding of these often tension-packed issues can make a real and lasting difference. For all of us.

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