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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Oppression

This guide is meant to provide users with a familiarity of many different types of oppression and how to work toward a better world by combatting oppression.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Martin Luther King, Jr.


In the interest of full disclosure, the creator of and collaborators for this guide identify with some, but not all of the oppressed identities presented here. As members of the Penn College community, we strive to encourage diversity, inclusion, awareness, equality, and equity. While I have made an attempt to collect and present some of the more timely, relevant, and quality resources on the topics of oppression, I recognize that my collaborators and I are still susceptible to our own implicit biases, privilege, and perspectives. Given our own limited experiences, any thoughts, comments, or suggestions, particularly from members of any marginalized populations, are sincerely welcomed and greatly appreciated.

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Nicole Warner, PhD
Madigan Library
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570-320-2400 ext. 7840

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Oppression is a result of prejudiced thoughts and actions combined with institutionalized or systemic power that is formed and reinforced throughout history. Institutional power then allows specific groups of people to become the majority identity for that society, which gives them a position of dominance (also known as privilege) that echoes throughout many systems in that society and culture. 

When one hears about something like systemic racism, it is a reference to the educational, institutional, and cultural systems that are in place to keep certain group(s) of people oppressed. These systems are evident in our language, our symbols, and even our laws, and are indications of the "norms" for our societies. Because these "norms" recognize what is dominant, acceptable, or valuable for our society, they conversely give power or privilege to individuals with those identities over individuals with marginal or non-dominant identities. For example, individuals who are not heteronormative experience barriers to getting married or adopting children.

Anti-Oppression refers to anything that actively attempts to challenge systems of oppression. This could include strategies, actions, theories, and even language. A large part of anti-oppression is first helping people to recognize that oppression exists and present ways to lessen imbalances caused by systemic oppression, in hopes of someday equalizing those imbalances. Anti-oppression is strongly linked to diversity and inclusion, but it's important to note that these terms are not interchangeable.

Allyship is not an identity, but rather a process. It is both passive and active, in that it involves listening, learning, and acting, in an effort to help bring inclusion, diversion, equity, and equality to the forefront of societal concerns. Being an ally means being aware of one's own limits with regard to knowledge and experience, but not allowing those limits to prevent one from taking action. Allyship means not being afraid to act when witnessing oppression, but it also means working actively to deconstruct the institutional, cultural, and systemic oppression facing marginalized people every day. Allies do not seek to only surround themselves with victims of oppression, but also those who are privileged, in an effort to help the latter challenge their own biases, perceptions, and ideals. 

Words have power

Language and, more importantly, being aware of the language we use is an important step in fighting against oppression. While some people may believe that society is becoming too "politically correct," the real truth is that more people are willing to speak out against hurtful and oppressive language and more people are willing to recognize how that language is construed negatively, and actively work toward creating a better and more inclusive future. This is why our language is constantly changing and words that may once have been socially acceptable slowly work their way out of our colloquial conversations.


-misia vs. -phobia: One example of shifting language is the recent emergence of the suffix -misia to replace the well-known suffix      -phobia in words such as homophobia or Islamophobia. This shift in terminology has only recently emerged because it is harmful to individuals with real phobias (e.g. real anxiety disorders that are the result of real fears). Using -phobia to define oppressive attitudes reinforces negative stigmas against mental illness; suggests that oppression is a result of fear, rather than hate; and removes the accountability of the oppressor by suggesting that it's not in their control. Misia, stemming from the Greek word for hate or hatred, has begun replacing the -phobia suffix in some areas, in an effort to be more inclusive and less ableist. While this language is not mainstream yet, it is an example of how we should all be constantly aware of our language and the effects that it has on our audience(s) and willing to learn and grow from that.

Hate is not a mental illness.


Symbols, much like language, may have different meanings to different people. For example, many argue that the Confederate flag or Confederate statues are significant reminders of their ancestors and history. The issue for many others, however, is the brutal history that those symbols represent, along with the celebration of racism that those symbols continue to represent for some. By supporting these types of symbols, one is inadvertently supporting systemic racism by prioritizing white nostalgia over racial injustice.

Databases on Oppression

Websites on Oppression

Books on Oppression

More Information on Oppression

More Information on Privilege

More Information on Intersectionality

More Information on Language

More Information on Symbols

More Information on Allyship