Grow change leaders' ability to work with privilege, power, oppression and pain

SVA Masters in Design for Social Innovation, Fundamentals course

The challenge: Working for social change brings us face to face with oppression, power, privilege and pain — things we are often poorly equipped to deal with.

For the past eight years, our course has included learning experiences that equip students to engage with the reality that we are participants in systems of oppression that harm us all. Through readings, lecture, reflection combined with embodied experiences (for example, drawing from Theater of the Oppressed), students are invited to examine history, to see systems and how they are located inside them, and to see how they can do harm even while intending to do good. Students experience using art and dialogue methods to express and bear witness to the shame of being a perpetrator or victim. By facing and working with these topics, students make headway toward seeing and shifting these patterns in themselves and in their work.

“I have been pushed to examine both my biases, my multiple social identities which perpetuate these biases, and the ways in which it frames my interactions. The frames of analysis and readings have provided me a starting point to examine my own privilege. This has been an uncomfortable process, but one that needs to continue and evolve.” – Student

“Holding space for pain is incredibly important because it is just acknowledging the truth… We can’t run away from our pain or other’s pain, because then we will not be doing truthful work, and in social design, anything not truthful is eventually unsuccessful.” – Student