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Anti-Oppression: Anti-Oppression

Welcome!

Welcome to the Beatley Library Anti-Oppression Guide!

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 Simmons College 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.

Disclaimer

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.

Contact the Library!

Questions? Suggestions or resources for the guide? You can contact us at library@simmons.edu.

Do you know of other great resources that we don't already have in our collection? Ask us to purchase it.

Some Basics

Oppression prejudice + power

  • • Oppression is more than the prejudicial thoughts and actions of individuals, oppression is institutionalized power that is historically formed and perpetuated over time;
  • • Through the use of that institutionalized power, it allows certain groups of people or certain identities to assume a dominant (privileged) position over other groups and identities and this dominance is maintained and continued at institutional  and cultural levels;
  • • This means oppression is built into institutions like government and education systems. For example, think of ways that heterosexism is privileged by and built into laws around marriage, property ownership, and raising/adopting children.

Systems of oppression run through our language, shape the way we act and do things in our culture, and are built around what are understood to be “norms” in our societies. A norm signifies what is “normal,” acceptable, and desirable and is something that is valued and supported in a 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.

If you've visited this guide before, you may be wondering about the change in some of our page titles from -phobia suffixes to -misia suffixes. If you're new to the guide, you may simply be wondering what these words/suffixes mean. Well never fear--we are more than happy to explain this relatively new shift in language.

The suffix "-phobia" comes from the Greek word for "fear of," and so it denotes an intense aversion to the part of the word that precedes it. Words like "homophobia" or "Islamophobia" are pretty recognizable, and most folks understand them to mean a position or perspective that is prejudicial and discriminatory against LGBTQIA+ identities and the religion of Islam respectively. 

The problem with these constructions is that there are folks who actually have phobias (real anxiety disorders in which someone experiences intense anxiety or fear that they're unable to control). Claustraphobia, for instance, is a fear of being enclosed in small spaces that, when triggered, can lead to responses from distracting discomfort to full blown panic attacks. When we use terms like "homophobia," we are equating bigotry with a mental health disorder, which does several problematic things:

  • • It relies on and reinforces the harmful stigma against mental illness (see the Anti-Ableism tab to learn more);
  • • It inaccurately attributes oppression and oppressive attitudes to fear rather than to hate and bigotry;
  • • It removes the accountability of an oppressive person by implying their actions and attitudes are outside their control.

So since naming oppression with "-phobia" suffixes is harmful, many folks are exchanging them for "-misia" suffixes instead. Misia comes from the Greek word for hate or hatred, so similar to how Islamophobia means "fear of Islam," the more accurate and inclusive Islamomisia means "hatred of Islam."

For these reasons, our guide will be using "-misia" constructions in place of "-phobia" in an effort to be as accurate and clear as possible and because we strive to practice within this guide the very anti-oppressive values we discuss in it.

Further Information

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.

Diversity is the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, sexuality & sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic class, physical ability or attributes, neurological condition, religious or ethical values system, and national origin. (adapted from Ferris State University)

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)

Though they go hand in hand, diversity & inclusion are not the same as anti-oppression. Diversity & Inclusion have to do with the acknowledgment, valuing, and celebration of difference, whereas Anti-Oppression (defined in another tab) 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.

Note: Definitions for diversity are...well...diverse. Context and environment play a big part in what we mean when we say "diversity," and unfortunately as social justice movements have gained media spotlight, the term has become somewhat hollowed out from being overused and under-defined from situation to situation. The definitions for diversity and inclusion 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 reifications of these concepts as they apply to particular communities can be structured.

The Diversity & Inclusion page of the Simmons website outlines the college's principles of inclusion and efforts to engage and celebrate its community. The page also includes links to the Simmons Commitment to Diversity page and an "Our Culture" video featuring students speaking about diversity and inclusion on campus.


Simmons Commitment to Diversity (as stated on the Simmons website 10/07/2016):

Our Values: “We honor the inherent humanity, dignity and worth of each member of our community.”

Our Vision: Simmons College will be a welcoming, vibrant, inclusive community that appreciates, values, and respects the humanity, dignity, diversity, and contributions of all its members. We are committed to engage one another to address the dynamic, evolving issues of our community and our world.

Overarching Goals:

  • Establish leadership and responsibility for fostering diversity and inclusion goals at Simmons College.
  • Create a campus climate/culture at Simmons where each member of our community experiences regard for their humanity, diversity, dignity and contributions.
  • Increase the knowledge and skills of faculty, staff and students to meet the challenges; seek opportunities to build diversity and inclusive excellence.
  • Develop and implement programs and activities designed to foster a culture of inclusion for all constituencies and enhance diversity in all its forms.
  • Design and implement a comprehensive and collective system of responsibility, accountability and recognition for all diversity and inclusion efforts to sustain a campus culture that promotes our values and mission.
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Privilege & Intersectionality

Privilege

Privilege is having unearned benefits/entitlements because of an identity you hold that society considers a "norm" and reinforces as dominant through oppression. 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.

Further Information


Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a 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 single identity factors 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 the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black and of being a woman considered independently, but must include the interactions. The concept of intersectionality is not an abstract idea but a description of the way multiple oppressions are experienced by actual people. Individually, we are able to be privileged by multiple areas of our identity (e.g. white AND male) as well as oppressed by multiple areas of our identity (e.g. trans AND disabled). An individual is also able to simultaneously experience privilege and oppression through the various intersections of their identity: for instance, a person who is historically marginalized (a person of color for example) may also have a role and/or be a member of a group that is oppressive to others ( a person of color may also be a man, nondisabled, cisgender, upper/middle class, straight, etc).

The idea is that Privilege and Oppression, like identities, come in infinite combinations, meaning an individual can benefit from more than one area of privilege, can experience the harm of more than one area of oppression, and/or can be oppressed by some aspects of their identity while also being privileged by othersBeing oppressed in one way does not negate an individual's privilege in another, and no single oppression holds more weight than another.

 

No matter the intersections of our privilege(s) and oppression(s), we ALL have a role in combating oppression and unequal power dynamics.

Further Info