Campus Ministry dialogue on privilege and allyship

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Members of the Saint Louis University community, both students and faculty members, gathered in the Campus Ministry student lounge, on Tuesday evening to engage in dialogue about privilege and allyship.  The coordinators of the event immediately established an environment of safe dialogue and acceptance before introducing the event’s questions. Senior students Roya Massoudnia and Ale Vázquez facilitated a variety of questions to encourage conversation about the recognition privilege and the accountability of allyship.  Additional topics emerged from the discussion.  Students took time individually responding to questions including: What is privilege? How do we distance ourselves from our privilege? How do we practice accountable allyship?  Responses included having the privilege to remove oneself from a situation when desired, walking alone at night without care and not having to work for opportunities.  People spoke from experience, but also referenced philosophers and theologians to further expand their response.

Within the 60 minutes allotted for the event, a plethora of topics emerged including addressing the privilege of space, gender identification, the matrix of identities and its complexity, and the false belief of a post-racist/post-sexist society .  The matrix of identities speaks to the multitude of identities people hold.  For example, if someone is not oppressed because of his or her gender, they may be oppressed for their race, or if they are not oppressed for their race, they may be oppressed because of their sexuality.

One key idea mentioned during the conversation was that allyship works on a spectrum and it means something different for everyone.  Someone who acts as an oppressor can be oppressed, while those who are oppressed can also act as oppressors.  Senior student Hank Ideker attended the event and provided a reflection on the discussion, “These are [incredibly] necessary conversations to have, conversations that aid in the recognition of our privilege and how we may use this privilege to promote justice.”  Privilege affects people in different ways — gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.    Students discussed the importance of dialogue and humility when recognizing privilege and then acting as an ally.  Stories of guilt associated with privilege were also shared with the group.  However, privilege can also be used to help those without privilege.

The discussion turned to the feasibility of attaining accountable allyship.    Students agreed that accountable allyship is attainable and provided a few guidelines for those who wish to serve as an ally.  One suggestion is to recognize that allyship will bring both failure and success, but that is no reason to not try.  Ale Vázquez spoke about the necessity of acting out against oppression.  “Breaking the silence, owning up to our privilege and saying ‘I’m here’ to people who need us is important,” Vázquez said.

Another example of attaining accountable allyship: marginalized people need to demand more space and privileged people should take up less space.  In other words, let people marginalized in society speak and share their story, do not speak on behalf of them.  Students addressed the question: how much does allyship cost you?  The group recognized that often times, allyship results in uncomfortable situations or rejection from friends and family.  Recognizing that having all of the answers is not realistic, yet another element of allyship.  “The event was a wonderful opportunity for reflection and learning about privilege and allyship.  And although they are difficult topics to wrestle with, it is essential that we wrestle with them at SLU and in our future endeavors beyond SLU,” Ideker said.