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Working for Safety to End Oppression Workshop

 45-Minute Workshop

Suggested Participants

  • Congregational Leaders
  • Religious Professionals

Goals

  • Increase understanding of the intersection between safe congregations work and anti-oppression work
  • Explore issues of power disparity, privilege, and oppression in UU congregations
  • Pay attention to ways the congregation can become more truly hospitable

Materials

  • Copies of “Working for Safety and to End Oppression” for all participants
  • Copies of Singing the Living Tradition
  • Chalice or candle and matches
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Your congregation’s covenant and mission statement
  • Copies of Handout 16, Privilege and Oppression, for all participants

Preparation

  • Appoint workshop facilitator(s).
  • Distribute “Working for Safety and to End Oppression” and ask everyone to read it before the session begins.

Session Plan

Gathering and Centering, 5 minutes
Light the chalice or candle. Turn to “A Litany of Restoration” by Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, reading 576 in Singing the Living Tradition, and read responsively.

Focusing, 5 minutes
Review the goals of the workshop and the workshop process with the group. Invite participants to discuss and agree upon the group’s guidelines for openness and sharing. Say something like,

There is much potential for open sharing throughout this program. On many occasions we will invite participants to share what may be intimate material. Therefore, it is important that people speak only when they are comfortable; it is always okay to pass if people choose not to share. By establishing a norm of respect for each other and our expression within the group, we want to ensure safety and right relations for all participants.

Engage participants in discussing the value of respect and confidentiality in a group and the destructive effects of sarcasm and put-downs. Print your group’s guidelines for openness and sharing on newsprint, and post it as a reminder for each session.

Reflecting, 10 minutes
In the beginning paragraphs of “Working for Safety and to End Oppression,” Tracey Robinson-Harris et al. state that issues of oppression and issues of safety often collide. Ask participants to respond to these questions:

  • Where have you experienced this collision in a UU context?
  • What were the major elements of this situation?

Exploring, 20 minutes
Distribute Handout 16, Privilege and Oppression, and review it with the group. Ask participants to discuss one congregational challenge that relates to the connections between lack of safety and oppression. Pose the following questions:

  • What would safety look like and feel like for the various players in this situation?
  • What is the difference between safety and comfort in this situation?
  • Reflecting on this situation and congregational culture, what structures of cultural oppression do we need to pay attention to in order to make the congregation safer?

Closing, 5 minutes
Read “Stubborn Ounces” by Bonaro Overstreet out loud to the group:

You say the little efforts I make
Will do no good; they will never prevail
To tip the hovering scale
Where Justice hangs in balance.
 I don’t think
I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
In favor of my right to choose which side
Shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.

Conclude by saying something like, “May we tend to the justice work of this congregation in our decisions today.”

Extinguish the chalice or candle.

2-Hour Workshop

Suggested Participants

  • Congregational Leaders
  • Religious Professionals

Goals

  • Gain knowledge and understanding of the intersection between safe congregations work and anti-oppression work
  • Explore issues of power disparity, privilege, and oppression in the congregation
  • Identify and define cultural competence in various congregational contexts
  • Develop strategies for making the congregation truly hospitable

Materials

  • Copies of “Working for Safety and to End Oppression” for all participants
  • Copies of Singing the Living Tradition
  • Chalice or candle and matches
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Your congregation’s covenant and mission statement
  • Copies of Handout 16, Privilege and Oppression, and Handout 17, Five Case Studies, for all participants
  • One bowl and one cup for each participant
  • Ten pennies for each participant

Preparation

  • Distribute the essay and ask everyone to read it before the session begins.

Session Plan

Gathering and Centering, 5 minutes
Light the chalice or candle. Turn to “A Litany of Restoration” by Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, reading 576 in Singing the Living Tradition, and read responsively.

Focusing, 5 minutes
Review the goals of the workshop and the workshop process with the group. Invite participants to discuss and agree upon the group’s guidelines for openness and sharing. Say something like,
There is much potential for open sharing throughout this program. On many occasions we will invite participants to share what may be intimate material. Therefore, it is important that people speak only when they are comfortable; it is always okay to pass if people choose not to share. By establishing a norm of respect for each other and our expression within the group, we want to ensure safety and right relations for all participants.

Engage participants in discussing the value of respect and confidentiality in a group and the destructive effects of sarcasm and put-downs. Print your group’s guidelines for openness and sharing on newsprint, and post it as a reminder for each session.

Reflecting and Exploring, 50 minutes
In the beginning paragraphs of ”Working for Safety and to End Oppression,” Tracey Robinson-Harris et al. state that understanding where safety and oppression collide in the lives of our congregations requires experience and information from the standpoint of persons who are part of historically marginalized groups in U.S. culture and understanding that the experience of safety for Unitarian Universalists who enjoy the privileges of status (as straight, white, able bodied, or male, for example) is mediated by that individual and collective status. Ask the group:

  • How do you understand these two things?
  • How do you describe the difference between safety and comfort?

Ask participants to reflect on the words power and power disparity in the context of safety, trust, privilege, and oppression. Ask the group to discuss what these words mean, both in general and in a UU congregation?

Distribute Handout 16, Privilege and Oppression, to everyone in the group. Allow time for participants to read and reflect on the handout. Remind participants that no category is absolute. Identity and multiple identities add complexity to the experience of power and vulnerability. Then engage participants in the following exercise (adapted from an activity developed by Joan Olsson of Cultural Bridges).

Give everyone in the group a bowl, a cup, and ten pennies. Begin the exercise by saying something like the following:

In our discussion of the definitions of privilege and oppression, we noted that most of us are members of at least one target group and members of at least one dominant group that experiences privilege. If you are female, you have experienced sexism; if you are male, you have experienced male privilege. If you are a person with a disability, you have experienced ableism. If you are able-bodied, you have experienced the privileges of able-bodied people. To illustrate how each of us stands in different relationship to oppression and privilege, I invite you to listen to ten scenarios and to place your pennies in the bowl or in the cup accordingly. To allow you time to think, I will read each scenario twice.

Then read the following list:

  • If your parents spoke English as a first language, put a penny in the bowl. If your parents’ first language was another language, put a penny in the cup.
  • If you had a room of your own with a door when you were a child, put a penny in the bowl. If you had to share a bedroom or sleep in a room that doubled as another room, put a penny in the cup.
  • If your home when you were growing up had more than ten children’s books and thirty adult books, put a penny in the bowl. If not, put a penny in the cup.
  • If police have harassed or disrespected you because of your race, put a penny in the cup. If that has not been your experience, put a penny in the bowl.
  • If neither of your parents nor you had to spend any amount of time on public assistance, put a penny in the bowl. If either you or a parent was ever on public assistance, put a penny in the cup.
  • If your religious holidays are regularly recognized in the media, in schools, and by employers, put a penny in the bowl. If your religious holidays are not recognized in these institutions, put a penny in the cup.
  • If you never have to consider the gender of the pronouns you use to refer to the person you are dating or who is your life partner, put a penny in the bowl. If you have to consider pronouns, put a penny in the cup.
  • If you have one or more major credit cards, put a penny in the bowl. If not, put a penny in the cup.
  • If you do not have to consider whether a workplace, restaurant, bank, or friend’s home is physically accessible to you, put a penny in the bowl. If you do have to consider this, put a penny in the cup.
  • If you experience being ignored, discounted, or condescended to because of your age, put a penny in the cup. If this is not your experience, put a penny in the bowl.

Invite participants to count their pennies in their bowls and in their cups and to reflect on what they are discovering and experiencing. Ask them if this exercise held any surprises for them. Talk about the feelings and reflections this exercise elicited.

Integrating, 50 minutes
Adapt this activity to fit the size of your group:

  • For a group of eight or more participants, ask the group to review all five situations on Handout 17, Five Case Studies, and respond to all discussion questions.
  • For small groups of three or four participants, ask the group to review, choose, and discuss one of the situations on Handout 17, Five Case Studies. Each small group needs a person to be a recorder and to take notes on a sheet of newsprint.

Let the groups engage in discussion for 30 minutes. Then return to the whole group and either summarize pertinent cultural competencies or invite summaries from the group recorders.
Using your congregation’s covenant, mission statement, and policies and procedures documents, identify and define your congregation’s next steps to increase its cultural competency. Record these on newsprint.

Closing, 10 minutes
Invite participants to gather in a closing circle. Light the chalice or candle on the table in the center of the circle. Turn to reading 701 by Sara Moores Campbell in Singing the Living Tradition and read it to the group. Then sing together “Spirit of Life,” hymn 123.

Extinguish the chalice or candle.

For more information contact safecongregations @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Friday, April 22, 2011.

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