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Allyship and Anti-Oppression: A Resource Guide

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As of 2019, this site is no longer actively updated, but the definitions, articles, and other resources are still available.

Welcome! This page has definitions of words related to anti-oppression and allyship. The definitions have been collectively written and generated through submissions from the student body. Except where otherwise noted, the definitions have been written anonymously by students.

These definitions are starting points, and are not comprehensive or definitive. There are often other possible definitions, and are always new ways of thinking about these terms and concepts. It is also important to note that these terms are constantly evolving, and may mean something very different now than they did recently or will in the future. They also have different meanings in different contexts. This guide does not cover all of the possible meanings and connotations that each of these words can have, but is intended to be a start. We hope that they can begin thinking, conversation, and further learning, rather than serving as the final word. 



A concept that symbolizes or categorizes people based on person’s ways of navigating and negotiating society – physically, emotionally, psychologically, and/or mentally.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities. This means expressions of fear or hate for people with disabilities, a denial of accessibility, as well as institutionalized discrimination. Ableism was first defined in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1981.

Source and further reading: FWD/Forward. What is Ableism?


Sometimes used to describe a person who is not physically disabled, chronically ill, severely obese or otherwise physically limited. (See also "Temporarily Able Bodied)

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


One’s ability to know, find and/or use the tools and resources that will allow them to live whole and healthy lives

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


Being an advocate has similar implications to being an ally, but with a more political leaning.


Biological years of life; Perceived age or generation; Assumptions about experiences, knowledge, and skills

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Agent/Privileged/Dominant Group

A social group that is positively valued, considered to be superior, independent, or “normal” and has access to social power.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


Allyship is a process, and everyone has more to learn. Allyship involves a lot of listening. Sometimes, people say "doing ally work" or "acting in solidarity with" to reference the fact that "ally" is not an identity, it is an ongoing and lifelong process that involves a lot of work. 

One type of ally is a white ally. A white ally acknowledges the limits of her/his/their knowledge about other people’s experiences but doesn't use that as a reason not to think and/or act. A white ally does not remain silent but confronts racism as it comes up daily, but also seeks to deconstruct it institutionally and live in a way that challenges systemic oppression, at the risk of experiencing some of that oppression. Being a white ally entails building relationships with both people of color, and also with white people in order to challenge them in their thinking about race. White allies don’t have it all figured out, but are committed to non-complacency.

Further reading:

Frances E. Kendall. How to Be an Ally if You Are a Person with Privilege

Racism School. Racism 104: Ally, Step by Step

UC Berkeley Gender Equity Resource Center. Allyship: Challenging Heterosexism and Homophobia

Antiracist action

Antiracist action seeks to dismantle institutionalized practices of racism. It also identifies and confronts racist ideologies which manifest overtly and covertly in institutions, conversations, curriculum, and organizational structures. 


“Asexuality is, more or less consensually, defined as the absence of sexual attraction. In its broader sense (aka The Asexual Spectrum), it encompasses an extraordinarily diverse group of people – from romantic asexuals (who fall in love – the question ‘with whom’ will then create romantic orientations), to aromantic asexuals (who do not fall in love), to demisexuals (who only experience sexual attraction once they’ve established an emotional connection), to grey-asexuals (who experience sexual attraction, but rarely).”

Source: Yes and Yes. True Story: I'm Asexual

Further reading: Asexual Visibility and Education Network

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Discrimination against bisexual individuals and the concept of bisexuality, often exhibited through the labeling of bisexuality as a phase, as indecision, or as a youth-related phenomenon.


Someone who is attracted to two genders or sexes romantically, sexually and emotionally, but not necessarily simultaneously or equally.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


Black is a racial category that can include people who have Sub-Saharan African ancestry, people who have dark skin, and people who are perceived to have darker skin color than those in other racial categories.

People who identify as Black may have a variety of skin tones and phenotypes. Blackness does not relate to a single culture, and Blackness is defined differently depending on the country or area. 

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Cisgender is a gender identity term used to describe people who identify as the gender/sex they were assigned at birth.  For example, if a doctor said “it’s a boy!” when you were born, and you identify as a man, then you could be described as cisgender.

Source and Further Reading: Basic Rights Oregon. Trans 101: Cisgender.

Queer Dictionary. Cisgender.

Citizenship status

A status conferred, usually by a governing agency, which grants rights and privileges to citizens and denies rights, access and privileges to non-citizens.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


One’s position on the economic hierarchy that is determined by wealth and income.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Class also encompasses education or access to education and geographic background.


Classism is systematic oppression and differential treatment of subordinated class groups to advantage dominant class groups. It is supported by a culture of attitudes and values that assigns characteristics of worth and ability based on social class or perceived social class.

Source and Further Reading: Class Action. What is Classism?


Coalitions are composed of groups coming together. There are various types of coalitions; sometimes, groups will come together for a short time to work towards a common goal, while other times, they will join for longer than the duration of any particular campaign under the understanding that their struggles and goals are connected.

“Coalition work is not work done in your home. Coalition work has to be done in the streets. And it is some of the most dangerous work you can do. And you shouldn’t look for comfort. Some people will come to a coalition and they rate the success of the coalition on whether or not they feel good when they get there. They’re not looking for a coalition; they’re looking for a home! They’re looking for a bottle with some milk in it and a nipple, which does not happen in a coalition. You don’t get a lot of food in a coalition. You don’t get fed a lot in a coalition.”

from "Coalition Politics: Turning the Century" by Bernice Reagon Johnson (Tripod link)

Code Switching

Linguistics: The practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation. Spanglish can be seen as code-switching in this context.

Code-switching can also refer to shifting the way you speak depending on the social setting: for example, in your neighborhood vs. at work. This type of code-switching is often associated with marginalized speech, such as switching from African American Vernacular English (AAVE) to Standard American English.

Code-switching can even extend to body language and other nonverbal cues.


When one’s action or inaction perpetuates the system of oppression; occurs both intentionally/consciously and unintentionally/unconsciously.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


The set of institutions and practices that privilege those with lighter skin color and discriminate against those with darker skin color.

Critical Race Theory

Critical race theory recognizes that racism is embedded in every aspect of U.S. society.

See: Critical Race Theory: An Introduction

Cultural Appropriation

Taking objects, practices, and bodies out of their cultural context and exhibiting or performing them without consideration of the privilege such a removal or display entails. Oftentimes this goes hand-in-hand with exotification and fetishization of other cultures.

Cultural Capital

Non-financial social resources that promote social mobility or help sustain a person in a particular class. Examples include education, knowledge about dress codes, historical knowledge about a particular place, accents,

Cultural Imperialism

The unequal power of one culture over another. Usually this means that the more powerful/dominant culture is larger, stronger economically or militarily. Cultural imperialism can be both policy AND attitude - for example the presence of McDonald’s all over the world, U.S. attitudes like “liberating oppressed Muslim women.”

Cultural/Societal Oppression

The aspects of society that overtly and covertly attribute value and normality to dominant groups & members and devalue, stereotype, and label subordinated groups & members as “other,” different, less than, or render them invisible.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

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A verbal exchange between two or more parties.


A disability is a condition or function judged to be significantly restricted. Saying that someone is disabled references the social systems that make it harder to function with a particular impairment, as opposed to the impairment itself. The term is used to refer to individual functioning, including physical impairment, sensory impairment, cognitive impairment, intellectual impairment, mental illness, and various types of chronic disease. 

People sometimes use the term "differently abled" instead of "disabled," although this term is critiqued for failing to acknowledge the power differences around disability and the fact that people are actively disabled by social systems that make it harder to function with a certain impairment.

Further reading: You can learn more about vocabulary surrounding disability here [PDF], including discussions of terms like "wheelchair-bound" and "handicap" as well as explanations of assumptions that you should be careful making. 

Syracuse University Disability Cultural Center. An Introductory Guide to Disability Language and Empowerment.

You can also read Eli Clare's Exile and Pride for more on disability.


To feel uneasy, unsure or confused in a particular situation. During difficult discussions, it is important to consider from where your discomfort is originating, how you understand that discomfort, reduce that discomfort and perhaps embrace that discomfort. Some of the most productive conversations happen when participants lean into their discomfort with the intention of pursuing a constructive dialogue. It is also important to remember where your discomfort is coming from. Often, people of more privilege can feel uncomfortable when a topic (ie race, sexuality) is brought up, while for others, these are constantly salient subjects, and the discomfort does not come from mentioning the problem (racism, homophobia), but rather from the problem itself.


"Discrimination takes place the moment a person acts on prejudice.  This describes those moments when one individual decides not to give another individual a job because of, say, their race or their religious orientation.  Or even because of their looks (there's a lot of hiring discrimination against "unattractive" women, for example).  You can discriminate, individually, against any person or group, if you're in a position of power over the person you want to discriminate against.  White people can discriminate against black people, and black people can discriminate against white people if, for example, one is the interviewer and the other is the person being interviewed."

See also, prejudice and racism

Source: Daily Kos, Why There's No Such Thing as Reverse Racism


Differences in race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, gender, class, disability status, size, sexual orientation, personality type, communication style, education, life experience, among many other aspects of identity that are present within, among, and between people. Reflection of a multicultural/multiracial society.

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Of, or relating to, or characteristic of a sizable group of people sharing a common and distinctive racial, national, religious, linguistic or cultural heritage.


The identity of a group of people having common racial, national, religious, and/or cultural origins as well as shared histories.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

A more extensive definition: 

Ethnicity is a collectivity within a larger society having real or putative common ancestry (or descent from a common homeland: idioms of kinship and homeland are often intertwined), memories of a shared historical past, and a cultural focus on one or more symbolic elements defined as the epitome of their peoplehood

3 kinds of claims: kinship (broadly defined), common history, and a claim that certain symbols capture the core of the group’s identity. Claims may not be founded in fact.

The extent of cultural distinctiveness is irrelevant. Not all ethnic groups are cultural groups and not all cultural groups are ethnic groups. Although groups may draw attention to certain cultural features as “the epitome of their peoplehood”, they are not necessarily practitioners of distinct cultures, and such features frequently have more symbolic power than practical effect on group behavior. Cultural practices of an ethnic group may vary little from those prevalent in the society of which it is part.

An ethnic group is a subpopulation within a larger society. An ethnic identity is self conscious. Ethnicity is an inherently relational construct.

Source: Professor Nina Johnson

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Feeling unsafe

Feeling unsafe is a legitimate emotion. Lack of emotional safety can result in lack of physical safety, i.e. emotional stress can manifest in the body. and when someone feels continually emotionally unsafe, it is physical too.

It is important to pinpoint why it is that you feel unsafe, as well. Do you feel unsafe because a group of people is calling out oppression and prejudiced behavior? Or do you feel unsafe because historical and perpetual acts of physical and emotional violence against you and people that share certain identities with you?

Feeling unsafe is always legitimate, but it’s important to remember why you feel unsafe, remember the social and historical context, and remember the role of various privileges and oppressions in your own feelings of safety, or lack thereof.

Lastly, remember that some people feel unsafe every day on this campus and in the world.


Feminism is traditionally described as the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men. Modern feminism, however, is much more aptly described in this quote by author and activist bell hooks (name uncapitalized by request of the author):

"Feminism is not simply a struggle to end male chauvinism or a movement to ensure that women will have equal rights with men; it is a commitment to eradicating the ideology of domination that permeates the Western culture on various levels-sex, race, class to name a few-and a commitment to reorganizing society…so that self-development of people can take a precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desire."

from Why Everyday Feminism is For Everyone by Sandra Kim

See also, Feminist Theory, from Margin to Center

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A person who identifies as a man who is attracted to men romantically, sexually and emotionally; in some contexts used as an umbrella term for LGB.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


A repetitive performance of gendered symbols that becomes a coherent identity, but because it is performative, gives space for alternate iterations of gender.

Gender Expression

How one presents and expresses their gender to the world. Sometimes used in terms of masculine and feminine, but not limited to the two.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


A system of prejudice and discrimination based on one’s gender identity, expression, presentation and/or perceived gender; most often against people who do not confirm to dominant norms of masculine/male/man or feminine/female/woman.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Gender Identity

The internal sense of how you perceive yourself and your gender.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


Someone whose gender identity is both man and woman, neither man nor woman, or something else.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

A fluid gender identity that defies categorization into the male-female gender binary that assumes many or no characteristics of these normative genders.

Gender Non-conforming

Someone whose gender expression is different than the societal expectations of that person’s gender. Not all GNC people identify as transgender.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

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Hapa, literally “half” in Hawaiian, was originally used as a derogatory term to describe people of biracial ancestry. Today, many multiracial individuals of East Asian or Pacific Islander descent have embraced the word as a term of prideful self-identification, although it is also still used as an insult. Some object to the term’s appropriation and perceived misuse outside of its traditional Hawaiian context, but “Hapa” has been widely adopted in Asian and Pacific Islander multiracial communities. 

Source and further reading: Hapa Voice. What is Hapa?


Heteronormativity is a bias in favor of opposite-sex relationships, and against same-sex relationships, that places heterosexual relationships as the default and the norm, thereby positioning homosexual relationships as abnormal. Examples: laws the discriminate against same-sex relationships, the underrepresentation of same-sex couples (Source)

Of, designating, or based on a world view which regards gender roles as fixed to biological sex and heterosexuality as the normal and preferred sexual orientation (Source: Oxford English Dictionary)


Heterosexism is a set of structures that privilege heterosexual relationships.

It is the individual, institutional, and societal/cultural beliefs and practices based on the belief that heterosexuality is the only normal and acceptable sexual orientation. Like racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression, heterosexism awards power to members of the dominant group and denies privileges to members of the subordinate group.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


A person who is attracted romantically, sexually and emotionally to a gender other than their own.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


Homosexuality, homosexual acts, or LGBT identity that is framed or presented as being compatible with or exemplary of nationalism, especially in a neoliberal, capitalist state.

Source: Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times


"A politics that does not contest dominant heteronormative assumptions and institutions, but upholds and sustains them, while promising the possibility of a demobilized gay constituency and a privatized, depoliticized gay culture anchored in domesticity and consumption"

Source: Lisa Duggan, The twilight of equality?: neoliberalism, cultural politics, and the attack on democracy

"Assimilationism means the gay quarterback gets to be homecoming king, but the freshman who likes wearing make-up and listening to showtunes is still a faggot."

Further reading 


Homophobia is one of the ways that heterosexism is manifested on a daily basis through interpersonal reactions. 

It is also the fear, hatred, or discomfort of lesbian and gay persons or any behavior that is outside the boundaries of traditional gender roles. Homophobia can be manifested as fear of association with lesbian, gay, or bisexual persons or being perceived as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Homophobic behavior can range from telling jokes about lesbian and gay people to physical violence against people thought to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

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Individual Oppression

The beliefs, attitudes, and actions of individuals that support or perpetuate privilege & oppression. Individual (racism/sexism/heterosexism/ableism/etc.) can occur at both an unconscious and conscious level and can be both active and passive. Examples include telling a “____-ist” joke, using a racial/gender/religious/etc. epithet, or believing in the inherent superiority of a group of people.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Institutional Oppression

The network of institutional structures, policies and practices that create advantages and benefits for dominant group members and discrimination, oppression, and disadvantages for subordinated group members. The advantages for dominant group members are often invisible to them or are considered entitlements or rights available to everyone as opposed to unearned privileges awarded to only some individuals or groups. Institutions may be Housing, Government, Education, Media, Business, Health Care, Criminal Justice, Employment, Labor, Politics, Religious Organizations, etc.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Further resources

Internalized Oppression

When members of a target social group adopt the agent group’s ideology and accept their subordinate status, prejudices, and/or stereotypes as deserved, natural, or inevitable.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


Intersectionality is a theoretical framework that comes from critical theory to describe the way that oppressive institutions like racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, classism, transphobia, etc are interlapping and cannot be separated from one another.

The concept was originally coined by Kimberle Crenshaw:

“It [intersectionality] grew out of trying to conceptualize the way the law responded to issues where both race and gender discrimination were involved. What happened was like an accident, a collision. Intersectionality simply came from the idea that if you’re standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you are likely to get hit by both. These [black] women are injured, but when the race ambulance and the gender ambulance arrive at the scene, they see these women of color lying in the intersection and they say, 'Well, we can’t figure out if this was just race or just sex discrimination. And unless they can show us which one it was, we can’t help them.'”

Source:  Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of ColorStanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241-1299. (Tripod link for off-campus access)

Further Reading: "Intersectional Approaches,"  from Allen, Amy. "Feminist Perspectives on Power," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (Spring 2013 Edition).


Someone who is born with “ambiguous genatalia.” Intersex is not limited to just genatalia, it can also be associated with chromosomes and hormones.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


Intimidation is a set of actions, statements, or behaviors that often makes people feel unsafe.

If you are feeling intimidated in a certain situation, pause to think about whether this is something that you are accustomed to feeling, and remember that many people face constant intimidation. This doesn’t invalidate your own feelings, it is just meant to put them in perspective.

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A system of oppression based on domination. The word’s history comes from critiques of feminist focus on patriarchy that ignored other intersecting identities and systems of domination other than those of men over women. Kyriarchy as a frame seeks to broaden the feminist understanding of oppression and reflect more accurately the lived experiences of people, in which oppression is experienced but it is not always possible to isolate one specific identity upon which oppression is based.

Source: Word of the Day: Kyriarchy

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A person who identifies as a woman who is attracted to women romantically, sexually and emotionally.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


LGBT (or LGBTQ, or LGBTQIA, etc.) is an acronym that attempts to cover the spectrum of people with marginalized identities of gender and sexuality. Although many argue over what the letters stand for and which should be included, people generally agree that it stands for "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual." For a more in depth discussion of this acronym and what each of the included terms means, see LGBTQIA: A Beginner's Guide to the Great Alphabet Soup of Queer Identity. Some people have switched to using the term "queer" as an umbrella term to cover the spectrum of gender and sexuality instead of continuing to add letters onto the acronym. (You can read more about the different uses of the word "queer" below.)


Freedom both internally and externally from oppressive messages, structures, and systems that limit everyone.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

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When a member of a racial, ethnic, religious, cultural or any social group is relegated to an unimportant or powerless position within a society or group. Being marginalized requires historical and ongoing oppression of the identity in question. For example, a white person may feel out of place in a room of people of color, but because of the social power and privilege that white people hold in U.S. society today and historically, a white person will never be marginalized because of their race.


Microaggressions are commonplace verbal or behavioral indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults in relation to race, gender identification, sexuality, class, language, etc. They are structurally based and invoke systems of racial (or gender, class, …) hierarchy. The reason “micro” is used is that this is looking at racial hierarchy based on the individual level, where are macro level analyses are looking at structures as a whole.  

Source: Sue, D.W. et al. (2007) Racial Microagressions in Everyday Life. American Psychologist62(4), 271-286. (Tripod link)

Further reading (Tripod link)


Microassaults are explicit racial derogations characterized primarily by a violent verbal or nonverbal attack meant to hurt the intended victim through name-calling, avoidant behavior or purposeful discriminatory actions. (Ex. deliberately attending to a white patron before a person of color; using racial epithets.) (Usually occur when white people “lose control” or when they feel relatively safe to engage in a microassault.)

Source: Sue, D.W. et al. (2007) Racial Microagressions in Everyday Life. American Psychologist62(4), 271-286. (Tripod link)

Further reading (Tripod link)


Microinsults are behavioral/verbal remarks or comments that convey rudeness, insensitivity and demean a person’s racial heritage or identity, or other marginalized identities. (Ex. white teacher fails to acknowledge person of color in the classroom; white employer acts distracted when talking with an employee of color, avoiding eye contact or turning away; when an employee of color is asked “how did you get your job?”; when a white employer tells a prospective candidate of color “I believe the most qualified person should get the job, regardless of race”).

Source: Sue, D.W. et al. (2007) Racial Microagressions in Everyday Life. American Psychologist62(4), 271-286. (Tripod link)

Further reading (Tripod link)


Microinvalidatons are verbal comments or behaviors that exclude, negats, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of a person with a marginalized identity. (Ex. when a person of color is told “I don’t see color”; when Asian Americans are complimented for speaking good English or are asked where they were born or “really” from; when people of color are told they are being “oversensitive” or “petty” for perceiving and confronting microaggressions, instances of racism).

Source: Sue, D.W. et al. (2007) Racial Microagressions in Everyday Life. American Psychologist62(4), 271-286. (Tripod link)

Further reading (Tripod link)


Hatred or entrenched prejudice against women. Even if something does not seem overtly hateful, it may be misogynistic if it implies that women have different capabilities, values, or purposes in life because of being women.

Model Minority Myth

The “model minority” refers to some ethnic, racial or religious minority group who is perceived to be more successful that the average population. (This success can be measured in education attainment, income, family stability, fitting the values of the dominant culture, etc.) Why is the Model Minority Myth dangerous? First, it overgeneralizes an entire group of people by assigned character traits to all the members of that group. Secondly, it denies the realities of oppression and marginalization that minority groups face by pointing to limited successes.

Example: Asian Americans are commonly called a “model minority” - When a peer, professor or counselor tells an Asian American student that they must be good at math/and or science, they are acting on the Model Minority Myth

Further reading: UT Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center. Model Minority Stereotypes for Asian Americans.


Identifying with or having ancestry of a single racial group.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee 


Respect, inclusion, and affirmation of multiple identities, cultures, experiences, histories, and discourses beyond dominant mainstream narratives.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee 


Multiracial: Identifying with or having ancestry of two or multiple racial groups. Some multiracial people may identify with or name themselves as being of multiple races distinctly or separately (ex., Black and Asian American) while some people (or in certain contexts), multiracial and/or multiracial categories (ex: Afrolatina) may be the term people use to identify themselves.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee 

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The status of belonging to a particular nation by origin, birth, or naturalized citizenship.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

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Not made as an official or attributable statement

Source: Oxford Dictionaries Online. Off the record.

A term coming from journalism, referring to statements or information given in confidence. this means that you shouldn’t talk about it, write it down or reproduce it publicly.  ex: if someone makes a statement and asks for it to be “off-the-record” you do not quote them or attach their name to that statement later.



The systematic, social phenomenon of prejudice and social power that manifests on a personal, institutional, and societal/cultural level. The result is the exploitation of one social group by another for the benefit of the agent/oppressor group.

Note that people can be oppressive without intending to be so.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

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Pansexual or Omnisexual

Someone who is attracted to people of multiple or all genders and/or sexuality romantically, sexually and emotionally.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


A system that gives power and privilege to men at the expense of women and gender variant folks.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Personal gender pronoun

When we we use pronouns like "she" or "he" to identify a person, we might be making an assumption about that person's gender that differs from their gender identity. It is important to ask for gender pronouns before making assumptions.

Note that while some people use the term "preferred gender pronoun" rather than "personal gender pronoun," many have moved away from this language, as it implies that gender identity is a preference. For this reason, this dictionary uses "personal" rather than "preferred."

Further Reading: Carleton College Sexuality and Gender Activism. Gender Neutral Pronouns.


Positionality is the place from which you view the world. The concept grew out of reflexive anthropology and sociology in the 1980s, and is a way of describing one’s social position in order to understand 1. power relations, 2. how one’s own subjectivity affects how one interprets and observes experiences.


Preconceived opinion not based on reason or actual experience; bias, partiality; unreasoned dislike, hostility, or antagonism towards, or discrimination against, a race, sex, or other class of people.

Source: Oxford English Dictionary (Tripod link)

"Prejudice is an irrational feeling of dislike for a person or group of persons, usually based on stereotype.  Virtually everyone feels some sort of prejudice, whether it's for an ethnic group, or for a religious group, or for a type of person like blondes or fat people or tall people.  The important thing is they just don't like them -- in short, prejudice is a feeling, a belief.  You can be prejudiced, but still be a fair person if you're careful not to act on your irrational dislike."

See also, racism and discrimination

Source: Daily Kos, Why There's No Such Thing as Reverse Racism


Having unearned benefits because of an identity you hold. There are various forms of privilege.

For example, U.S. white privilege is the lived experience of greater social/political access, representation and entitlement, and material and economic security that people considered white have as a result of white supremacy. It's important to note that while many white people are oppressed on the basis of class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, culture, ethnicity, etc, it is still true that ALL white people still benefit from white privilege, though in different ways.

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Queer is sometimes used as an umbrella term for people with marginalized sexualities and is also an identity that individual people hold. In addition, it has political connotations; while "gay" might simply refer to someone's sexual preference, "queer" has historically implied radicalism and anti-assimilationism. The term also gestures to the ways in which sexuality is complicated and sexual identities are not fixed.

It is worth noting that the term queer originated as an insult, and has only been reclaimed more recently. 


The process of trying to understand one’s sexual orientation and working through often confusing and unexpected feelings or attractions. Questioning is a process of self-discovery and can be very difficult, especially in a very homophobic society (see homophobia). 

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Race is a concept that signifies and symbolizes sociopolitical conflicts and interests in reference to different types of human bodies.

Scientists have disagreed about which, if any, genetic differences mark the boundaries between races and about how many human races there are (inconsistent and insignificant). Most contemporary scholars have dismissed the idea of race as a meaningful biological category that can be applied to separate groups of human beings. However, race still wields monumental power as a social category. Academics and intellectuals, individuals still accept racial categories as naturally given and delineated. Race is not established by some set of natural forces, but a product of human perception and classification. Racial ategories are socially significant because we use them to organize and interpret experience, to form social relations, and to organize individual and collective action. Racial categories are historical products and often contested. People determine what the categories will be, fill them up with human beings, and attach consequences to membership in those categories. In the US, whiteness (a racial category) has been consistently privileged over non-whiteness, with persons of color consigned to the margins of American society and culture. In different ways, at different times, race has been institutionalized in the organization of the society and ideologized in its culture.

Source: Professor Nina Johnson.

As Beverly Daniel Tatum has put it, “Racial distinctions are socially meaningful, but not biologically valid.”

Further reading: James, Michael, "Race", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition).


In a nutshell, racism is a perpetuation of historical, systematized discrimination.  While personal actions can contribute to or reinforce institutional oppression, that is, be racist, racism is much more than the sum of individual actions. “Racism” can describe company or government policies, cultural practices, and other things that contribute to social systems of oppression.  For example, in the U.S., Black men are much more likely to be arrested, convicted, and jailed than White men who have committed similar crimes.  Personal prejudice, for example white juries affected by the “Black Brute” stereotype, can contribute. Laws and systems, such as the fact that judges are required by federal law to punish crack possession much more severely than cocaine possession, despite the fact that the drugs are very similar, makes the U.S. Criminal Justice system racist.

Systematic oppression experienced by people of color due to institutionalized inequalities. Racism maintains the racial hierarchy, which means unequal economic, political and social power, that consistently benefits some ethnic, racial and cultural groups at the expense of others (see also: white privilege, under "Privilege", and white supremacy).

Source: Ricky Sherover-Marcuse. A Working Definition of Racism

Further Reading: James, Michael, "Race", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2012 Edition).

Rape culture

Rape culture means being surrounded by images, language, laws and everyday phenomena that validate and perpetuate rape. It includes jokes, TV, music, advertising, words and imagery that naturalize sexual violence and coercion as "normal." Rape culture leads people to believe that rape is inevitable and just part of the "way things are."

Source: FORCE: Upsetting the Culture of Rape

The idea of rape culture isnot new; Susan Brownmiller coined the phrase "rape supportive culture" in her book Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, published in 1975.

Further reading: Marshall University Women's Center. Rape Culture.

Susan Brownmiller. 1975. Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape. (Tripod link)


A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Religious Privilege

A system of privileging certain religious groups, in the U.S. context, particularly Christians; centering Christianity as a normative standard to other non-Christian faiths and peoples.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Religious Oppression

The systematic discrimination against targeted religious groups by the dominant religious group in a society.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Reproductive Justice

Fighting equally for the right to have a child, the right not to have a child, and the right to parent the children we have in safe and healthy environments, as well as to control our birthing options.

Source: SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective

Reproductive justice aims to transform power inequities and create long-term systemic change, and therefore relies on the leadership of communities most impacted by reproductive oppression, particularly communities of color. The reproductive justice framework recognized that all individuals are part of families and communities and that our strategies must lift up entire communities in order to support individuals.

Reproductive Justice will exist when we all have the social, political and economic power and resources to make healthy decisions about our gender, bodies, sexuality and families for ourselves and our communities.

Source:  Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice. What is Reproductive Justice?

Reverse racism

Reverse racism does not actually exist, because racism is a structure, and people of color do not structurally oppress white people. 

Term used to refer to discrimination by traditionally marginalized groups against members of traditionally dominant groups.  Most social justice activists agree that “Reverse Racism” doesn’t make sense. Many think the idea of reverse racism is invalid because the term “Racism”, especially in academic and Social Justice circles, has a specific meaning(see Racism) that relates to institutionalized oppression.  The Howard Morgan case, where an off-duty Black detective was shot 28 times by four white police officers, is an example of individual racist action that contributes to established racist systems and patterns, and can fairly be called “racist”. Affirmative Action is frequently cited as an example of “reverse racism”. However, its main effect is to exclude Asian Americans from higher education.

For more information on Affirmative Action’s effect on Asian Americans

For more information about white persecution complexes

Further reading: Daily KOS - Why there is no such thing as reverse racism

See also, prejudice and discrimination.

A satirical account of what reverse racism would look like, based on what racism and white supremacy have actually looked like in the U.S. historically and today - Black Girl Dangerous. How to be a 'reverse-racist'.

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A system of prejudice and discrimination based on one’s sex or perceived gender; most often against people who do not identify as cisgender men.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Sexual assault

Sexual assault is a way of nonconsensually taking power over another person through unwanted touches and denying them control over their body and their sexuality.

Definition from the college website: Sexual assault is defined as any sexual contact that occurs without the consent of the other person. Specifically, it is intentional physical contact with an intimate part of the body or with clothes covering intimate body parts without the consent of the person touched. Sexual assault includes but is not limited to sexual penetration of an unwilling person's genital, anal, or oral openings; touching an unwilling person's intimate parts such as genitalia, groin, breasts, lips, buttocks, or the clothes covering them; or forcing an unwilling person to touch another person's intimate parts or clothes covering them. When sexual assault occurs repeatedly between individuals, it is referred to as sexual abuse.

Source and further reading:  Resources about sexual assault at Swarthmore


How a person thinks of themselves sexually, including sexual attractions, emotional attractions, sexual behaviors, social preferences, and other factors. Sexuality – how one thinks of themselves –is not interchangeable with sexual behavior.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


Silencing is a set of actions, behaviors, or attitudes that contribute to the inability of marginalized and oppressed people to express themselves or their viewpoints.

Silence can be a mode of survival for marginalized and oppressed peoples. Remaining silent in order to avoid physical, mental or emotional violence, rejection. Remaining silent in order to keep jobs, homes and personal safety. Remaining silent out of the fear of an attack, whether physical or emotional.

Also, literally being silenced by acts of physical (murder, kidnapping, assault) or emotional (verbal harassment, mocking) violence.

Further Reading: This is what it truly means to be silenced by fear

Social Justice

A vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. It involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others, their society, and the world.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Social Power

Access to resources that enhance one’s chances of getting what one needs or influencing others in order to lead a comfortable, productive and safe life.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Socio-Economic Status

An intersectional representation of social class, which is often indicated by a combination of a person’s education, occupation, social capital, and income.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


Unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group. It typically refers to shared political interests, but not always.
An example: factory workers voiced solidarity with the striking students
Source: Oxford Dictionaries Online


Blanket beliefs and expectations about members of certain groups that present an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment. They go beyond necessary and useful categorizations and generalizations in that they are typically negative, are based on little information, and are highly generalized.

Structural Diversity

The numeric representation of people of diverse identities, backgrounds, and experiences; although commonly used to discuss the representation of people of color, it is not limited to racial diversity (e.g., gender diversity, religious diversity, etc.)

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee 

Structural Violence / Oppression

Johann Galtung, in “Violence, Peace and Peace Research” (1969, Journal of Peace Research), introduced the concept of “structural violence,” to refer to any constraint on human potential due to economic and political structures. Unequal access to resources, to political power, to education, to health care, or to legal standing are forms of structural violence. It is often pointed out that more people die as a result of poverty, derived from global economic and social inequalities, than die as a result of wars and genocides. In a similar way, some scholars talk of the “violence of representation,” in which ideological social categories violate the self-ascribed identities of individuals and social groups.

Source: Cambridge Dictionary of Sociology

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Target/Oppressed/Subordinate Group

A social group that is negatively valued, considered to be inferior, deviant, or dependent and has limited access to social power.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

Temporarily able-bodied

The idea that all people, at some point, will not fit in society’s definition of an able-body and that at some point all people will not be able to fulfill society’s expectations of what a physical body should be able to do. In a broad sense, everyone is temporarily able-bodied. Example: growing older and not being able to climb stairs, getting sick and not being able to walk or stand for long periods of time

Further reading: FWD/Forward - "Temporarily able-bodied: Useful, but not always true"


A trans person is someone whose gender identity does not correspond to the gender that they were assigned at birth, such as people who are transgender or who are genderqueer. Some people also write it as "trans*" to designate that the term "trans" is meant as an umbrella term.

Further reading: Not Your Mom's Trans 101


To be transgender means that someone's gender identity does not correspond to the gender that they were assigned at birth. It is one of the terms falling under the category of "trans." Note that to describe someone as "transgendered" is incorrect.


The fear of and discrimination against Trans people

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee


Someone who is transsexual is someone who is trans and has had begun or completed the process of medically transitioning. This term is not as frequently used today, and you should not assume that someone who is trans has (or can, or wants to) medically transition, but some people do identify this way.

Trigger warning

Trigger warnings are common in both written and verbal discussions. They are meant to reduce harm to people who have extremely strong emotional responses or post-traumatic flashbacks to certain subjects. A response like a flashback is called “being triggered.” Some subjects that are typically prefaced by trigger warnings include: graphic or in-depth descriptions of sexual assault, abuse, self-harming behaviors, suicide, eating disorders, body shaming, and other traumatic subjects. It’s a good idea to discuss this at the beginning of any group meeting that might cover these topics.

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Physical and emotional aggression or behavior, both intentional and unintentional, towards one or many individuals.

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The amount of money one holds or saves; may be measured by cash, real estate holdings, stocks and bonds, and so on.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

White Supremacy

As argued by Elizabeth "Betita" Martinez ('46), White Supremacy is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and people of color by white people, the U.S., and nations of the European continent, for the purposes of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege. 

Source: Challenging White Supremacy Workshop [PDF]


Alice Walker’s definition of womanism:

1. From womanish.  (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.)  A black feminist or feminist of color.  From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman.  Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior.  Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one.  Interested in grown up doings.  Acting grown up.  Being grown up.  Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.”  Responsible.  In charge. Serious.

2. Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually.  Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength.  Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually.  Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.  Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.  Traditionally a universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige and black?” Ans. “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.”  Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.”

3. Loves music.  Loves dance.  Loves the moon. Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness.  Loves struggle. Loves the Folk.  Loves herself. Regardless.

4. Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

Source: Alice Walker, In search of our mothers' gardens: womanist prose (Tripod link)

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An unreasonable fear, distrust, or hatred of strangers, foreign peoples, or anything perceived as foreign or different.

Source: Tri-Co Summer Institute 2013 Committee

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