“Building Better Allies” Series Looks at Supporting Others’ Struggles for Justice

Posted September 21st, 2010 at 3:09 pm.

This Friday, Sept. 24, the Office of Intercultural Affairs will host the first in a yearlong series of discussions. Similar to the “Diversity Conversations” of years past, the series will take a new approach; instead of talking about social-justice issues exclusively from the perspective of those affected, it will explore ways in which members of dominant or privileged groups can become allies to those who are disadvantaged by the status quo.

“Building Better Allies” Discussions this Semester

All discussions take place in Campus Center Room 200 from noon to 1 p.m.

  • Friday, Sept. 24: What is Social Identity?
  • Friday, Oct. 1: Gender—Male Allies on a Women’s College Campus
  • Friday, Nov. 12: Race—White Allies to People of Color
  • Friday, Dec. 3: Sexual Orientation—Straight Allies to The LGBTQ Community

The new series is entitled “Building Better Allies: Voices of Our Community.” It is the vision of Emily Wiseman, a senior majoring in political science.

“The reason we are framing it as ‘allies’ is that it is a different way of talking about social-justice issues. Usually we talk about social justice from the opposite side, the marginalized side. But mainstream groups have an important role to play, and it’s crucial that we see that,” said Wiseman.

For the past two years, Wiseman has served as a Student Resource Person for the Tri-Co Summer Institute, a weeklong program where Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr College freshmen explore issues of identity. Working as an SRP for the first time in August 2009, Wiseman emerged from the experience with a desire to build on her work.

“Tri-Co was the first time I had individually facilitated conversation about social-justice issues. I wanted to build on those skills. It had gone well, but I knew it could always go better,” said Wiseman.

A few months later, Wiseman learned of a workshop titled “Whites Confronting Racism” sponsored by an organization called National Training for Change. She jumped at the opportunity to attend.

The OIA funded her participation in the weekend-long workshop, held at Swarthmore.

“After the workshop, I started thinking about being an ally. It helped me think about my social identities. For example, as a woman, what do I need in society from men? And how does that help me understand my identity as a white person?” said Wiseman.

In discussions with Assistant Dean and Director of Intercultural Affairs Chris MacDonald-Dennis and Assistant Director of Intercultural Affairs Vanessa Christman, Wiseman expressed a desire to bring the conversations she had had at the workshop back to Bryn Mawr.

“We thought, ‘Let’s set aside the diversity conversations. Let’s put our resources from the diversity conversations into Building Better Allies.’ We’re helping Emily realize and refine her vision,” said Christman.

MacDonald-Dennis and Christman collaborated with Wiseman to create Building Better Allies.

Christman said, “Emily is really bringing the “Whites Confronting Racism” workshop back to campus. This is a fabulous success story in our relationship with students. We can help them do one thing and they bring it back and make it something bigger.”

The first workshop, to be held this Friday at noon in Campus Center 200, will serve as an introduction to thinking about one’s various social identities.

“It’s a primer to establish vocabulary and get the wheels turning. We’re trying to make connections between identities and the work of social justice,” said Wiseman.

The discussion series is open to all Bryn Mawr students, staff, and faculty.

The series, with sessions held once a month, will include discussions on gender, class, race, religion, sexual orientation, and body.

Each discussion will feature a panel of speakers who will expound on their experience of working as an ally for a particular group. For the Oct. 1 gender discussion, panelists will include MacDonald-Dennis, Dean Chuck Heyduk, and Professor of Social Work and Social Research Raymond Albert. The three will consider how they, as men, have experienced being allies for women and the women’s movement.

Wiseman hopes that considering this unique perspective on social justice issues-that of an ally-will prompt conversation with the Bryn Mawr community and help people understand their multiple social identities and the responsibilities that accompany them.

“For me, an ally is someone who actively recognizes their place in a hierarchal system in society, and continually challenges that system,” said Wiseman.

—by Katherine Bakke ’11

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