Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells us in Beyonce’s “Flawless” that a feminist is a “person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” This may be true, but we think it’s more complicated. Feminism means a lot of different things to a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons. But we’re here to talk about what it means to us. So, we want to talk about vibrators and activism and equal pay and some more vibrators—about discovering our own definitions of feminism and about acknowledging our not-so-feminist moments. We want to talk about feminism, but first, we need to talk about privilege. We know this topic is often exhausting and divisive but we hope that through sharing our conception of privilege, we can break down these barriers.

Now, where do we start? Historically, certain communities have been dehumanized, discriminated against and excluded from full participation in society through legal, political, economic and social means. Social systems were created to exert power over these groups and prevent them from having the basic rights that our society champions—“rights” that often only apply to those with power. These structures have privileged some groups of people, making it easier for them to gain wealth, educational opportunities and political influence for centuries, while disadvantaging others for just as long. We cannot divorce contemporary realities from this history.

So, how does this relate to privilege? Although as individuals we didn’t establish these systems of inequality, we can’t disentangle ourselves from them or ignore their impact on our daily lives. If Emma, who is white, gets stopped by the police, she doesn’t have to worry that the officer might mistreat her because of her race. Growing up in a largely upper-middle class town, Hayley always felt safe in her neighborhood. When Emma and Hayley were in high school, they never once questioned if they could attend college or not. This is privilege. The degree of privilege you have isn’t a choice. It’s not Maybelline. You’re literally born with it. And since it’s not something you can change, don’t feel guilty about it. What matters is that you are conscious of how it impacts your experience and consider it when interacting with others.

You’re probably wondering what this has to do with feminism. For Emma and Hayley, thinking about their degrees of privilege is deeply connected to their feminism. Emma is white. Hayley is multiracial. We are both heterosexual, able-bodied and cisgendered. These identities shape our personal understandings of feminism, and just as everyone has a unique set of identities, everyone, too, will have a unique understanding of feminism.

Hayley grew up a predominantly white town in suburban Connecticut. When a boy stuck a pencil in her poufy, natural black hair in seventh grade, she did not have the words to express her frustration. When she was sent to the dean’s office during physics class for wearing a “short” skirt in 11th grade, she did not grasp the double standards of her school’s dress code. When her college-educated mother helped her with homework, she did not consider her educational and economic privileges. But when she began her journey at Bowdoin, she started to learn about the racist undertones of the incident in seventh grade; she began to understand the unwarranted scrutiny of her body in high school and she came to terms with the privileges that she has as a result of her upbringing. Hayley’s understanding of feminism is defined by her privileges and disadvantages.

Emma didn’t always identify as a feminist. When she first read the dictionary definition of feminism, she was surprised. If that was it, she wondered, how could anyone not be a feminist? Growing up around people who shared a similarly privileged background, identity was not something Emma had thought about much. At Bowdoin, however, she learned about systems of power and her own participation in structural oppression. She learned about the Feminist Movement, a movement that has enabled her to exercise fundamental rights, but has too often defined “women” as white, middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied and cisgendered. She thought hard about the ways that white, privileged women, like herself, had perpetuated other forms of subjugation in the name of feminism. Now Emma considers herself a cautiously-proud feminist, embracing the concept of feminism without ignoring problematic aspects of its past and present.

Feminism is complex. It can be messy. It can be ugly. It can be liberating. It allows us, Emma and Hayley, to reflect about ourselves—not just as women—but as unique individuals. It’s helped us understand our privilege, reconcile with how we’ve been wrong in the past and learn about how we can improve in the future. So, what does feminism mean to you? Well, that’s not our story to tell. You tell us.

Hayley Nicholas and Emma Roberts are members of the class of 2017.