The Diversity Dialogues: Privilege in Oppression engaged students to participate in a conversation about privilege and oppression in history, society, and the Slippery Rock community.
Keisha Booker, the assistant director of multicultural development, and Kemoni Farmer, graduate assistant for multicultural development, facilitated the discussion. The Diversity Dialogues are sponsored by the Office for Inclusive Excellence (OIE).
Similar to the first Diversity Dialogue, Booker introduced the topic of privilege in oppression, stating that she does not know everything when it comes to the topics and that her discussion will be based on her opinion.
The conversation began with a brief history lesson of exclusion, including the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Tuskegee Experiment, Puerto Rican Reproductive Rights, Indian Removal, Japanese Americans and the Tulsa Massacre. Students were familiar with some of these occurrences and unfamiliar with others.
Booker transitioned the conversation by asking participants how they felt about these acts of exclusion.
“I had never heard about the Japanese Americans until I was in high school, and I just so happened to stumble upon it,” Farmer said. “This is different and something we aren’t teaching.”
Similar to Farmer, Booker said that she had never heard of the sterilization of Puerto Ricans, but heard about an example of something similar in North Carolina, where there was a mass sterilization program that targeted poor minorities in the 20th century.
“I always get baffled at the parts of history that get left out,” Booker said.
Bringing the conversation to current and recent times, Booker asked how Americans, especially Generation Z, reconcile with America’s history.
Keelan Hartman, a participant, said that Generation Z acknowledges what happened and does not honor those who did it.
However, Booker, a millennial, said that she has a hard time reconciling history because it involves events she does not know about, that have to do with her own education.
“I want to move forward and be better, but I don’t always know how when we have this history of oppression that is so long and deep with multiple layers,” Booker said.
Continuing on the topic of history, Bailie Fleming, a participant, said that history repeats itself, and she finds herself not knowing about the exclusion topics discussed at the beginning when she feels she should.
Being aware of the topic is something that Caroline Sears, a participant, agrees with, but pairs it with symbolic justice.
“I feel that is important to us,” Sears said. “We were not the ones who did the wrongdoing, it was our country, but the oppression that our history has caused is something to think about.”
Other participants expressed ideas on how to become educated on exclusion. Lyosha Gorshkov, the assistant director of the Women’s Center and Pride Center, said that people should learn how other groups contribute to the country.
“We need to learn how communities contribute, and we have to remember that this country is built on immigration,” Gorshkov said.
Building on the discussion’s topic of diversity in oppression, Booker read the anology ‘oppression and privilege are two sides of the same coin’ and asked how participants interpreted it.
Iliaria Perry, a participant, said that one can not have one without the other, tying in that if one group is privileged then it is oppressing the other.
Booker built on Perry’s idea, adding that someone’s oppression or not of a privileged identity is not something of their own, and visa versa. Originally, the discussion was called ‘Oppression in Today’s America’, but was changed to model the idea of the analogy concept.
Delving deeper into the topic, Booker asked how one’s understanding or perception of the notion of power plays into one’s views of oppression or privilege.
Samantha Cox, a participant, said that a lot of people do not realize what kind of oppression there is until they have that power or see how the power is used to oppress people.
“You don’t know what you are going to do until you are in that situation,” Cox said. “We have to be more cognizant of how we are thinking.”
Relating to Cox’s idea, Booker read the quote “when you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression,” and asked participants for their opinion on the saying.
Raelyn Horne, a participant, said that the majority of the idea has to do with mindset and how people are not good with change, giving socioeconomic status as an example.
Mindset can also include how people perceive words, and Booker asked if participants agree that oppression and privilege are viewed as trigger words with a negative connotation.
Plenty of students agreed, including Horne.
“I think the words are heavy because a lot of people avoid them,” Horne said. “Things that are controversial we steer away from because we are scared of them. That’s why conversations like this are important.”
Agreeing with the idea that there is not a great understanding of the words, Sears said that the labeling of either oppression or privilege plays a part in the connotation.
“I think that everyone has both [oppression and privilege] in their lives,” Sears said.
Gorshkov also believes that the words are intertwined.
“When we start acknowledging them, we can move forward,” Gorshkov said. “We don’t want to be that person, but we have to be uncomfortable sometimes.”
Transitioning the conversation to embody Slippery Rock, Booker asked how the participants see the societal weights of oppression and privilege in the university community.
“Most of our history is told from the white male perspective,” Booker said. “We think one way and it becomes so ingrained in us that we don’t challenge ourselves to look outside in these scenarios.”
Participants’ answers varied in regards to diversity on campus. Gabriella McAdams, a participant, said that there is little diversity on campus, using the reference of living in a bubble. Adams believes that conversation is a way to break down barriers when it comes to diversity.
Emma stokes, a student who was on campus for the 2019 fall semester before distance learning, said that the campus is fairly diverse, although she can see students who believe they have more privilege than others.
The general conversation surrounding Booker’s question regarding privilege and oppression in the university community regarded diversity, however, Cox brought up another viewpoint: the LGBTQIA+ community.
“One of the reasons I chose Slippery Rock was because they were more open than other colleges I visited, but why do we have to have these separate spaces for people to be comfortable,” Cox said.
Other aspects were established as well, such as the privilege or disadvantage of living at home or on campus and food options for those with health issues such as celiac disease.
At the end of every Diversity Dialogue, Booker asks participants what they took away from the discussion.
“It’s nice to agree and disagree with people,” Horne said. “It’s okay for people to be okay with that. A lot of the time if you disagree, it’s a big deal. A lot of the time it’s nice to agree to disagree and be calm about it.”
The next Diversity Dialogue, Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 5 p.m. will discuss Transgender Inclusion. Information can be found on CORE or the CORE app.