By Nikhil Umesh and Omar Kashef
Following two days with the Racial Equity Institute’s anti-racism workshop this past May, we left deeply moved and with a heightened sense of urgency. We feel it is necessary for CEF to not only discuss historical and ongoing racism, but begin a thorough exploration of institutional power, privilege and oppression as it relates to our communities in Durham and Chapel Hill. The initiative was Omar’s brainchild and stemmed from a project that he had been working on for the past year through his fellowship with Young People For. It was a culmination of many voices, perspectives, and ideas, and needless to say, was a long time in the making.
As CEF grows, Advocates bring a greater variety of skillsets and backgrounds to our organization. Leveraging the multiple identities and experiences we bring to our work, we posit that realizing one’s own systemic advantages and barriers will allow for a deeper understanding of the institutions that have granted and denied us access to power and resources throughout our lives.
The first Workshop on Institutional Power, Privilege, and Oppression (WIPPO) happened at Chapel Hill’s weekly general body meeting and at the last training for new Advocates. Our primary learning objective was for everyone to get acquainted with key terms (privilege, oppression, intersectionality, etc.) and frame them within commonly known systems of privilege and oppression. We touched on systems from classism to ableism to heterosexism, and discussed how they operate in everyday institutions such as housing and our healthcare system. Still, we aimed to frame our discussion not solely within the confines of CEF.
We are all implicated in these systems. There is no way around that. In discussing these issues, we try not to treat them as abstract or a sort of intellectual pursuit, which often happens in the context of a university. Rather, privilege and oppression continually manifest in our lived experience. So, we pushed beyond CEF, and incorporated tidbits on the university’s white supremacist legacy and its implication in the racialized geography of UNC’s campus. We showed a clip from a documentary by former student Laura Barrios that illuminates the “invisibilized white supremacist narrative that undergrads UNC and the wider Chapel Hill community,” calling to attention the Silent Sam monument, Saunders Hall, and Unsung Founders memorial, among others. Following the workshop, an Advocate mentioned value in highlighting the campus’ racialized geography:
“It emphasized the harm the university structure can have on perpetuating systems of oppression in this town, and that students have an obligation to mitigate or reverse those effects.”‘
Durham will be having their first WIPPO this upcoming Monday, Oct. 20 at their house course! The next Chapel Hill WIPPO will be held on Nov. 24 at general body, and we hope to see many folks there.
Sound awesome? Want to get involved? Have suggestions, feedback, criticisms? We would love to have you on board as we discuss and shape this workshop for Advocates in the future! Email Omar at firstname.lastname@example.org to chime in and/or find out more.