A club at UPenn has held mandatory anti-oppression training for the last two years. These sessions have included “Power Flowers,” a “Privilege Circle,” and discussions about identity.
Write On! is a group of UPenn students that tutor children at Lea Elementary School in creative writing. At the start of each school year, the club hosts its training with Sonny Singh, a self-described educator/activist.
In both the 2016 and 2017 sessions of the training, the leader asked each student to fill out a “Power Flower,” pictured on the right. To do so, each student put a dot in each category on the paper with dots farther from the center signifying whether the student had more privilege in that area. Students then connected the dots, and the larger a student’s shape was, the more privilege they had overall.
According to Singh, the diagram served as a “way for students to think through all their multiple identities and reflect on the access to power and privilege they have based on who they are.”
The club’s student coordinators affirmed that members were not required to share that information with the larger group.
In the 2016 session, students had to participate in a “Privilege Circle” where the students, standing in a circle with eyes closed, stepped forward if their answers to prompts from group leaders meant they were privileged. At the end, the students opened their eyes to see where they stood.
When asked about the purpose of this activity, Singh explained that it was “to connect students’ own lived experiences to thinking about systemic oppression.”
The coordinators added that the training also includes “discussion around phrases such as ‘racial tension.’”
The Write On! coordinators further explained that “a large part of the anti-oppression training focused on scenario responses” and how certain situations may call for “a different perspective or experience than most coaches might encounter in their everyday lives as Penn Students.”
Singh said the purpose of the training was threefold. Members of Write On! should “gain a shared understanding and shared language around oppression and social justice.” They must “reflect on [their] own identities, power, and privilege and how they might affect [their] work in the Write On! program.” Finally, they needed to “reflect on how various forms of oppression may play out in the Write On! program and develop concrete steps to more consistently practice social and racial justice on campus.”
This year’s Write On! student coordinators said the event was “well-received last year” and provided an opportunity to “help coaches to a greater understanding of how their own background, biases, and assumptions might differ from those of their students [at Lea Elementary].”
As of now, the training will continue to be mandatory for the years to come.
(Photo by Bruce Andersen)