This guide is intended to provide some general information about anti-oppression, diversity, and inclusion as well as information and resources for the social justice issues key to The Chicago School community.
This guide is by no means exhaustive, but rather serves as a starting place for finding information from a variety of sources. It will continue to develop in response to evolving anti-oppression issues and community needs.
In an effort at full disclosure, it should be noted that the collaborators on this guide occupy some of the oppressed identities outlined here, but not all of them. We have attempted to bring together quality, relevant resources for the anti-oppression issues in this guide, but we are not immune from the limits and hidden biases of our own privileges and perspectives as allies.
We welcome and greatly appreciate any feedback and suggestions for the guide, particularly from the perspectives and experiences of the marginalized groups listed and not listed here.
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Oppression = prejudice + power
Systems of oppression run through our language, shape how we act and do things in our culture, and are built around what are understood as “norms” in our societies. A norm signifies what is “normal,” acceptable, and desirable and is something that is valued and supported in society. It is also given a position of dominance, privilege, and power over what is defined as non-dominant, abnormal, and, therefore, invaluable or marginal.
Anti-Oppression is the strategies, theories, actions, and practices that actively challenge systems of oppression on an ongoing basis in one's daily life and in social justice/change work. Anti-oppression work seeks to recognize the oppression that exists in our society and attempts to mitigate its effects and eventually equalize the power imbalance in our communities. Oppression operates at different levels (from individual to institutional to cultural) and so anti-oppression must as well.
Though they go hand in hand, anti-oppression is not the same as diversity & inclusion. Diversity & Inclusion (which are defined in another tab) have to do with the acknowledgment, valuing, and celebration of difference, whereas Anti-Oppression challenges the systemic biases that devalue and marginalize difference. Diversity & Inclusion and Anti-Oppression are two sides of the same coin--one doesn't work without the other--but they are not interchangeable.
Diversity is the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual identity & orientation, age, socioeconomic class, physical ability or attributes, neurodivergence or neurological condition, religious or ethical values system, and national origin. (adapted from Ferris State University)
Equity is defined as “the state, quality or ideal of being just, impartial, and fair.” The concept of equity is closely tied to fairness and justice, and all three are context-specific to the historical, systemic barriers, disadvantages, and power disparities present in any given situation. It is helpful to think of equity as not simply a desired state of affairs or a "finish line," but instead as a continuous structural concept—a lens and mindset (proactively reinforced by policies, practices, attitudes, and actions) through which power is redistributed and inequity is challenged and addressed. (adapted from Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide)
Inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. An inclusive community promotes and sustains a sense of belonging; it values, celebrates, and recognizes the enriching benefits of diversity and practices respect for the talents, beliefs, identities, and lived experiences of its members. (adapted from Ferris State University)
Justice is the systematic fair treatment of all people along all axes of identity and of any social position. In practice, it is the proactive operationalization of policies, practices, attitudes, and actions resulting in equitable access, opportunities, treatment, empowerment, and outcomes for all. (adapted from Center for the Study of Social Policy)
"Diversity & Inclusion" is a very frequently heard phrase. Though they go hand in hand, diversity & inclusion is not the same as anti-oppression. Diversity & Inclusion have to do with the acknowledgment, valuing, celebration, and empowerment of difference, whereas Anti-Oppression challenges the systems and systemic biases that devalue and marginalize difference. Diversity & Inclusion and Anti-Oppression are all necessary in order to work toward Equity and Justice.
Note: Definitions for diversity are...well...diverse. Context and environment play a big part in what we mean when we say "diversity," and as social justice movements have gained media spotlight, the term has unfortunately become somewhat hollowed out from being overused and under-defined from situation to situation. The definitions above do not capture the many, many cultural and political nuances embedded in these terms; rather, they are intended to provide a broad scaffolding for understanding and engaging with the dialogues in and outside Simmons and on which more specific iterations of these concepts as they apply to particular communities can be structured.
Privilege is unearned benefits/entitlements or lack of barriers assigned to an identity that society considers a "norm" and therefore dominant. Privilege and oppression are well-maintained social systems that are reinforced by binarized, normative hierarchies that categorize certain identities as superior (privileged) and their supposed opposites as inferior (oppressed) (e.g. male and female; straight and queer; cisgender and transgender, etc.). There are various forms of privilege, some of them tangible and others less so. One form of privilege, for instance, is the representation of one's identity in mainstream media and books—something intangible but nevertheless valuable in our culture.
Intersectionality is a legal and sociological theory that promotes the understanding that individuals have multiple identity factors and are "shaped by the interactions and intersections of these different social [identity factors] (e.g., race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, gender, class, sexuality, geography, age, (dis)ability, migration status, religion, etc.)" [from Intersectionality 101]. This means that inequities do not result from the social devaluing of a single identity factor in isolation, but rather from the intersections of different parts of an individual's identity, power relations, and experience.
Black legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in her 1989 essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” which argues that marginalization and discrimination experienced by a black woman cannot be understood in terms of racism or of sexism considered independently, but must include the interactions. Since its coinage, the concept has been expanded to describe experiences outside of black womanhood, and the general concept is that people experience more than one type of oppression because of their intersecting marginalized identities. The concept of intersectionality is not an abstract idea but a description of the way multiple oppressions are experienced by actual people.
Anti-oppression movements and work must acknowledge and account for intersectional experiences of systemic oppression in order to be both fully inclusive and effective in dismantling systemic barriers to equity.
Allyship is a process, most notably a learning process. Allyship involves a lot of listening and is sometimes referred to as "doing ally work," "acting in solidarity with," or "being an accomplice" to reference the fact that "ally" is not an identity but rather an ongoing and lifelong process and commitment to action that involves a lot of work.
An ally acknowledges the limits of their knowledge about oppressed people’s experiences but doesn't use that as a reason not to think and/or act. An ally does not remain silent but confronts oppression as it comes up daily and also seeks to deconstruct it institutionally and live in a way that challenges systemic oppression, even at the risk of experiencing some of that oppression. Being an ally entails building relationships with both people oppressed by their identities but also with people privileged by their identities in order to challenge them in their thinking. (adapted from Allyship & Anti-Oppression)
Allies don’t have it all figured out but are committed to non-complacency.