Layers of Oppression Leadership Workshop

In this weekly series, OneWorld Now! Leadership Facilitator (and program alumna) Andrea Vielma breaks down what happens in an OneWorld Now! leadership workshop. Each week, students come together for an experiential workshop to explore a new topic and develop skills like critical thinking, social-emotional learning, empathy and more. Sessions are based on OneWorld Now!’s unique global leadership curriculum.

In the OneWorld Now! “Layers of Oppression” workshop, students explored the meaning of oppression and its various manifestations in order to develop a clearer sense of different forms of everyday oppression and how systems of oppression are perpetuated. The session built on the experience of systems of dominance, privilege and disadvantage examined in the Power Flower, a prior workshop in which students looked at the different categories that make up one’s social identity.

As always, our agenda kicks off with a brief check-in led by our pod-leaders, second-year students that serve as small group mentors to first year students. We ask our students to reflect on how the previous leadership session has popped up in their week, as well as their highs and lows. We then introduced the “Layers of Oppression” session  with as activity called “Colombian Hypnosis”. In the activity, students are paired up and asked  to guide their partner throughout the space by leading them with the palm of your hand as the pictures below demonstrate:



The goal of this activity is to explore the roles of following and leading; once students have gotten comfortable leading a partner around we chose a group of a random group of students to lead lines of followers throughout the space. Afterwards we asked our students to discuss the activity. “[It’s] harder to follow when you’re farther away from the leader…communication is key” reflected first year student Emma.

Having introduced the difficulties of following and leading, we then asked students to act out scenes and narratives of oppression based on different identities. OneWorld Now! provides scenarios for students. Some scenes were about disabled people’s experiences on the bus. Other scenes were about people of color and their hair. Many of these scenes were random, others were experiences from our OWN community. “Here at OneWorld Now! we confront the uncomfortable…to do our peers justice” stated Leadership Facilitator Arielle as she led the students through role play scenarios. Students were asked to discuss the scene: Who is being oppressed? How is this oppression coming through and why? They then acted out the scene in front of a second group two times. The first time, the scene was kept true to the original experience. The second time, however, the audience was given the space to change the scene. This activity is derived from Agusto Boat’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” format.


Above: OneWorld Now students act out the experience of differently-abled people in transit.


Above: Students debrief the activity and discuss its implications.

Again, we close each activity with a debrief. OneWorld Now! students are asked to question what they saw and what surprised them. How can this activity be applied in their lives. “[You’ve got to] know when to be a leader and when to be a follower,” realized Sepia. “It’s situational,” added Cody. “If there’s a leader in place, you need to ask yourself if that person has enough experience to lead others.” Two of the small groups discussed situations in which a person might be both a leader and a follower, such as the people in the middle of the line in the first activity, Colombian Hypnosis. When asked about the hard parts of leading, students agreed that its is a challenge to meet all the needs of your followers, especially when there are a lot of people counting on you. When you’re in the spotlight, there’s a lot of pressure to be perfect. Sometimes, you’re alone because nobody else steps up with you. Sometimes, in order to stand up for yourself and others, you need to challenge another leader. After this  workshop, we hope our students were able to understand some of the complexities of leadership.

Next week, we’ll be comparing different countries around world across several themes including education, gender equality, income inequality, etc.