The Anti-Oppressive Learning Collective
Reading Between the Lines
Heather Mark, She/Her
Heather is a Youth Diversity and Awareness Program alumnus and founder of the Anti-Oppressive Learning Collective, a book club dedicated to creating an accessible learning space to engage in personal development and lifelong learning opportunities.
Explanation of Project
I learned early on during the education portion of the Youth Diversity Awareness program that if I wanted to inspire positive change within my community, 1) I could only be accountable for how I personally confronted my environment, and 2) we can accomplish much more together than we ever could on our own. I reflected on things that I valued, and what was important to me. I value life-long learning opportunities and accessibility, and I adore reading and engaging with others in meaningful conversation. It struck me that a book club, one that dealt with the themes of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, would be a project I found both rewarding and engaging. With contacts from my network, I assembled a team. It was rewarding to play off the strengths of others to create a culture that will – hopefully – prove lasting and engaging.
The resources that were presented to me throughout my time as a program member through OSP made all the difference in building my confidence so I could devote more energy to my aspirations. The coordinators of the program patiently and generously acted as sounded boards during the months of work that went into unlearning biases, reflecting, growing, and ultimately creating.
It was of utmost importance to the book collective that we create an accessible space for people of all different backgrounds in our community to engage with personal development and lifelong learning opportunities. We studied how we could make our text and messaging easier to read and engage with, we monitored ourselves for when our language would become exclusionary or ableist and how we could make minor adjustments to invite more people into the space. We engaged with different organizations across our community to spread the word of our initiative as widely as we could. We had some difficult conversations about how, in the space of discussion themes of oppression, some types of rhetoric can perpetuate violence and what we would do to either mitigate such instances of address them as they (likely inevitably) came up. Perhaps most importantly, we acknowledged the art form of having difficult conversations, including engaging with someone you disagree with instead of blocking them out.
When we went to sit at the figurative table, we did so in a circle, demonstrating that (simply because some people present had acted as planners) there wasn’t any hierarchy in terms of who was or was not a knowledge keeper. If you keep your mind open to the experiences of others, you’ll continue to be blown away by what you can learn. Everyone you meet has the ability to teach you something, and it’s our duty as community to ensure we remain open to this style of engagement.
Through the initiative of the book club, we learned some valuable lessons in how to meaningfully remove barriers. My favourite example is that we offered free books for any member for whatever reason. They’d just have to fill out a Google Form and one member of the planning committee would discreetly organize a delivery to that person in their preferred format: physical or electronic. It’s my hope that, through this initiative, we’ve creating an opportunity for connectivity during the pandemic. I understand that, to inspire change in the world, you really are only accountable for how you show up as you journey towards growth. It’s an invaluable practice to get to digest themes of oppression with a group of individuals equally as eager to leave the world a bit better than it was when they entered it.
Future Plans for Diversity & Inclusion Advocacy & Allyship
Since the conclusion of the program, the skills I’ve learned in advocating for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion have led me into an administrative role with a small municipality in the province of Alberta. Working internally and in conjunction with Town Council, I’ve prepared a Directive to augment internal accessibility and address inequalities. Simultaneously, a Welcoming and Inclusive Communities Policy I drafted will be part of the Strategic Planning sessions of the new Council starting in the New Year. The Youth Diversity Awareness program through OSP instilled in me the language and education to get to this stage in my professional development. It also provided me with a self-space in which to reflect on my biases, as well as increase my self-awareness.
The book club continues to operate virtually via distanced meetings and a discussion platform. Get involved or acquire additional information by reaching out via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
OSP's Youth Diversity and Awareness program will connect you to learning and volunteer opportunities, like minded peers, community mentors, and provide support for you to bring a Diversity and Awareness initiative to your own community. We are always looking for committed participants to become part of our learning community!