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Students develop skills to support oppressed groups

The Counseling Psychology program hosted an Ally Development Workshop in January for its incoming master’s and doctoral students.  This annual workshop is developed and led by second- year Counseling Psychology doctoral students. Minnah Farook, one of the doctoral students who helped organize the event, recently explained more about the workshop:

photo of Minnah Farook
Minnah Farook


Why the name “Ally Development Workshop?”

The name comes from the idea that we are learning to be allies for different oppressed groups who can use the support of people with privileged identities. It helps us develop our identity as an ally.
What is the purpose of the workshop?

The workshop focuses on examining our privileged and oppressed identities, increasing awareness of our biases and stereotypes of different groups, and learning how to be an ally for an oppressed group. For example, I might be a heterosexual person of color. In this case, my race is an oppressed identity, but being heterosexual is a privileged identity. So I can learn how to be an ally for LGBTQIA community, and work to increase awareness of LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, intersex, asexual) issues, advocate for this group and their needs, and learn to stop engaging in activities or behaviors that might be oppressive to this group (e.g. using correct pronouns, not saying things like “that’s so gay”).


What topics does the workshop cover?

This year we covered sexism, heterosexism, racism, classism/poverty, xenophobia, and Appalachian identity.
How does the workshop benefit incoming students?

The workshop helps students begin to examine their biases and worldviews and how that might impact their work with clients as therapists or interactions in everyday life. The students learn how prejudice and discrimination can be intentional and unintentional (microaggressions) and how that impacts people of different oppressed groups. The hope is that students will continue to increase their awareness of privileged and oppressed identities; be mindful of behaviors or communication that might be oppressive, and not engage in such behaviors; and learn to give voice to or advocate for oppressed groups.
What are some typical questions/concerns of incoming students?

Many students usually begin by examining their own beliefs and behavior and how that may have contributed to oppressing others and maintaining systems of oppression. Facing our own privilege and behaviors can be a difficult and uncomfortable process. Students also have questions about how to interrupt systems of oppression, what they can do to not contribute to the problem, and what they can do to advocate for oppressed groups.
How did you use your experiences in the program to help develop and teach the workshop?

I participated in this workshop as a first year student. That helped me think about what I thought worked well in that workshop and what I would do differently. As first year students, we complete course work where we learn about different kinds of –isms and how that affects people; what we can do as therapists and therapists-in-training when we work with oppressed groups; and how we can advocate for them. I used my personal experiences, what I learned from the workshop and classes (particularly EDP 606 II) to develop and facilitate this workshop.