Department or Program


Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Markella Rutherford

Additional Advisor(s)

Lee Cuba


Researcher Shamus Khan (2011) understands “privilege” as the ability to be at ease in a multitude of social situations and to function facilely within these situations. While it is a skill proven to be desirable in both school and the job market, only certain lifestyles and institutions, such as elite boarding schools, have traditionally fostered its development. My thesis research looks at the experience and embodiment of privilege among female students on elite liberal arts college campuses, both single-sex and co-educational. Using longitudinal data from the New England Consortium on Assessment and Student Learning (NECASL), I compare the ways in which female students of different races/ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses experience and acquire privilege. Ultimately, I conclude that elite college students of all backgrounds express privilege similarly and effectively because colleges admit students who either have the appropriate dominant habitus or are very close to achieving it. While I do not find Khan’s observations replicated in elite colleges, I contend that my findings reinforce his larger argument about the role of privilege and notions of a diverse meritocracy in obscuring mechanisms of social reproduction.