By Ian Vincent, CCESL Service Initiatives Intern, Graduate School of Social Work
Community activist and organizer, Regan Byrd, joined the Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning (CCESL) on October 5 for its annual Community Organizing Institute. The Community Organizing Institute teaches participants how to bring about social change through active community engagement. As this year’s keynote speaker, Regan offered her insight into anti-oppression, allyship, power dynamics, and collective self-interest. As an anti-oppression activist, speaker, and trainer in Colorado, Regan has worked with various organizations on anti-oppression and allyship, including the Colorado Women’s Bar Association, the Colorado Mid-Wives Association, the Sierra Club, Denver Public Schools and now the University of Denver (DU).
Regan’s explanation of internalized beliefs and behaviors helped participants to understand how systems interact with one another. If stereotypes and biases exist within one system, that system attempts to exert its dominance over others. As a participant and facilitator, I found Regan’s explanation of ideological, institutional, interpersonal, and internalized oppression incredibly important to understand within a community organizing model. Before creating changes within communities, it is important to understand the dynamics between power and privilege. If partnerships are to be created, guidelines for allyship must be developed by the marginalized populations requesting support. Feedback and evaluation of process must be considered and implemented to ensure that all parties are operating under a collective self-interest.
The Community Organizing Institute gave participants an opportunity to examine their own identities before building connections with others. Much like the community at large, the room was full of individuals with differing beliefs, ideas, and cultures. The Institute provided participants with several innovative activities to help members grasp the multiple layers of an individual’s identity. Small-group discussions allowed participants to share their observations and learn how perceptions can create biases. This is an important step before individuals can effectively work in a community.
After examining and reflecting on individual identities, participants learned how to plan and implement a public action plan. Action plans must be developed through critical thinking, informed action, allyship, and feedback. Participants of the Community Organizing Institute left with a better understanding of how to bring about positive social change.