Blog | Transformative Learning Hub on Anti-Oppression | October 28, 2020

The focus for the 28 October 2020 Transformative Learning Hub gathering was how to engage with anti-oppression in our research, teaching and societal engagement. 

Why Anti-Oppression?

Prompted by the murder on George Floyd and the global growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, a dialogue with colleagues at CSPS resulted in the decision to adopt anti-oppression as a theme to actively work on this year and beyond. Rather than coming up with a mere statement, we all felt the need to investigate and reflect on our own practices and to support each other in actively pursuing anti-oppression in our own teaching, research and community engagement. Our aim in this Transformative Learning Hub gathering was to create a safe and nurturing space for that investigation. 

Sierra Deutsch, coordinator of the CSPS Political Ecology cluster and reading group, explains here why we’ve chosen to focus on anti-oppression and how it links to anti-racism:

‘(…) the recent global recognition of the importance of practicing anti-racism has led to a decision to focus specifically on anti-racism for next year’s readings. At the same time, we recognize that over half of the Black community is also subjected to gendered oppression and that many Black people also experience oppression based on many other categorizations (e.g. sexuality, immigrant status, religion, class, age). As such, it is impossible to discuss Black liberation without also discussing the many other forms of oppression that intersect with anti-black racism. Moreover, although recent global events have focused on anti-black racism, Black liberation cannot occur without addressing white supremacy, which manifests in many ways in different countries and institutions and targets other non-white communities in various and unique ways. Therefore, for our Political Ecology Reading Group for the 2020/21 Academic Year, we plan to focus specifically on anti-oppression and on books written by members of marginalized groups’.

Case clinics

We started the session with case clinics around challenges of two Hub members, Sierra Deutsch and Elisabet Rasch. Case clinics are a powerfully effective format with which to access the wisdom and experience of peers and to help a peer respond to an important and immediate professional challenge in a better and more innovative way.

The gathering’s 15 participants divided into two break-out rooms and worked according to the following format: 

  1. Case-giving (10m)
  2. Stillness (1m)
  3. Mirroring (10m)
  4. Generative dialogue (15m)
  5. Closing remarks (5m)
  6. Individual journaling (3m)

Read below how Sierra and Elisabeth reflect on their experience as case-givers during the case clinics: 

‘I am grateful to have been able to participate in the TL Hub on anti-oppression as a case giver. The topic has had personal and professional significance for me for as far back as I can remember. As an expat from the US, I am keenly aware of what is at stake when white supremacy, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny go unquestioned and unchecked. I became a political ecologist because I understand ecological problems as political and inherently connected to the same systems of power that give rise to social and economic problems. For me, anti-oppression is a commitment to consistently and continuously seek to understand and disrupt systems of oppression. Being anti-oppression means being actively pro- diversity, equity, and inclusion. It also means recognizing that a just society is not only about fairness, but about expanding the collective potential of society to solve its most pressing problems. Just as biodiversity strengthens ecological resilience, so does experiential diversity strengthen the resilience of the human community. The challenge I shared with the group was related to this and my struggle to diversify readings for my classes, as well as my observation that the social and emotional labor of anti-oppression work often falls mostly on those who don’t identify as cisgender men. By exploring these challenges with the TL Hub, I felt a sense of solidarity and shared frustration, as well as the beginnings of a network of mutual support for such challenges. I think and I hope that other participants felt the same’. (Sierra Deutsch)

‘It was super inspiring to share my challenges related to doing collaborative research in the Transformative Learning Hub gathering. In my research, I see working with collaborative and participatory  methods as a way to transform vertical power relations in research and decolonize  our research practice. For me, using engaged and activist methods is not only at the core of being ‘a good academic’. It is also a way of working that is completely aligned with myself as a person and a human being. It is what I get passionate about and that keeps me going.  This does, however, not come without its challenges. Some of these challenges are very practical, like the assumption within many participatory methods that all research participants are literate. As a consequence, using them uncritically can imply reproducing existing power relations among research participants. Other challenges are more epistemological and existential at the same time: is it possible to do engaged, collaborative research at all? Am I not extracting too much? Is it okay to use my “white privilege” to work with marginalized groups? A third set of challenges is linked to doing this kind of research within the metrics, publication credits oriented university. Doing participatory, collaborative research can be “slow”. And that is also the way I want to do it. I believe that in the end “slow science” brings us more than chasing publication credits. Although I am quite sure that this is how I will continue, and that I don’t want and will not let go of my engaged and collaborative ways of doing research, every once in a while, I go through the circle of asking myself these kinds of questions. The insight that I got from sharing them with the group was that  it can actually be good to embrace these questions and emotions, to allow myself to have them, as long as I also take care of my “emotional resilience” and keep myself rooted in what I believe and am passionate about. I sensed that feeling heard and seen, as happened during the case giving session, can be a powerful way to stay resilient and to accept that these questions and feelings are also part of the process of doing research. They make a researcher vulnerable, and this is, in the end, also part of the very process of doing research and transforming research relations. I think that the others in the group gained several insights: that it is important to share and embrace emotions in research’. (Elisabet Rasch)

The Inclusive Design Toolbox

After the break, Hub member Philippa Collin introduced us to the Inclusive Design Toolbox that she co-created with colleague Roos Gerritsma at Inholland University of Applied Science in Amsterdam.  The toolbox is aimed at supporting creative professionals in consciously designing (products and places) for inclusion.

Philippa reflects:

‘It was a joy to share the Inclusive Design Toolbox with the TL Hub. Not only was its message listened to respectfully but some participants were inspired to apply it straight away as a lens through which to reconsider their courses. As my co-designer Roos Gerritsma pointed out when I told her about this session; the toolbox seems to have more appreciation outside our university of applied sciences than within! There we have it; the awkward truth of assuming the role of change-maker within your own organization.  It often feels like a lonely and ungrateful task, and I’ve learnt it’s sometimes wise to bring in other voices from outside to help you do the job. In my own work teaching in the Creative Business department I try to invite practitioners (especially heroes!) to come and underwrite my story. Having said that, I was also struck by how design thinking is now an integral part of applied research and we are not torn by the dilemma you described of whether to serve the scientific community or the community “out there”. Perhaps there is an opportunity for mutual learning here. Thank you so much for mastering the art of creating a safe and creative online platform where there is space to be vulnerable and to learn. Being part of the TL Hub I was reminded once again how important it is to keep building a nurturing ecosystem for oneself’.

After a three-hour session, participants left with energy and a genuine feeling of being supported. Many were overwhelmed with the transformative power of generative listening and allowing emotions to be part of the conversation. 

We are looking forward to continuing the conversation! Join us for the following gatherings:

  • The next Political Ecology Reading group will take place on 19 Nov. 2020, discussing Gloria Wekker’s White Innocence. Interested in joining? Contact sierra.deutsch@wur.nl to get the Zoom session link and let her know you’re keen to participate.
  • The next Transformative Learning Hub session will take place on 25 November 2020 and focus on (our embodied relationship to) Climate Change, with Hub members Robin van der Sluijs, Tom Rowe and Dave Pendle sharing their research, questions and techniques.

To  join the Transformative Learning Hub meetings or learn more, please get in touch with Meghann Ormond meghann.ormond@wur.nl  or Anke de Vrieze anke.devrieze@wur.nl