October 23, 2014

Oppression & Violence (vintage SASC blog)

Before social media was a big thing, back in 2006, the SASC staff wrote this powerful piece on Oppression & Violence, which to our knowledge was never shared.  

“In a dominator culture, the pursuit of external power, the ability to manipulate and control others, is what matters most.  When a culture is based on a dominator model, not only will it be violent but it will frame all other relationships as power struggles” – bell hooks


What is power?  Everyone defines the word power differently.  Some may define it as physical strength; others may describe it in terms of money.  However, power in the context of oppression and violence means something very specific. 

In an equal relationship between people, each person is valued.  People work cooperatively and their input in equally valued.  They trust one another and feel connected to each other.  In this situation, power is exercised cooperatively between equals and people often feel good about themselves and their relationship to others.  The power expressed is one that benefits the entire community.  People in this type of situation have a well-developed sense of personal power, which is often expressed through empowerment, self-confidence, trust in others, and positive connections with their community.  Within communities, these people practice “power with” relations in which the strength and health of the community is derived from everyone working together and looking out for one another.

In an unequal relationship, each person is not valued and treated equally.  These relationships are often competitive and hierarchical, with very few people having the power to make decisions that affect the entire community.  People often do not trust one another and people often do not feel connected to the rest of their community.  In this situation, power is concentrated in the hands of a few and those few have the ability to make decisions that help them maintain power, while other people in their community are deprived of theirs.  Personal power is derived from “power-over” dynamics, where one person gains a sense of personal power by taking another person’s power away.  In this situation, little or no trust exists between people – “to each their own” – and individual power is prioritized above the power of community (“power with”) in the pursuit of individual gain.  In this type of situation, the community suffers, while a privileged few has the ability to control others.  “Power-over” is the mark of a society of domination.


Oppression is systemic inequality that creates and maintains power imbalances between perceived groups of people.  In other words, oppression exists when different social systems, such as the medical system, legal system, educational system, etc., are structured in a way that benefits some and disadvantages others.  Oppression is the inevitable result of “power-over” relations.  Furthermore, there are many interrelated expressions of “power-over” dynamics that help hold inequitable, oppressive social systems in place.  Violence and/or the threat of violence holds oppression in place.  Sometimes violence is visible, such as in the case of physical attacks that causes injury or death; however, many people do not recognize the violence inherent in exclusion, denial of access to necessary resources such as health care and education, and denial of needs, such as food and shelter. 

How does oppression and violence manifest itself at UBC?  Well, if you live in residence, look around and see who is cleaning your toilets.  You will notice that there are a significant amount of women, specifically immigrant women performing the cleaning (in fact, many of them were nurses, teachers and other professional at one time!)  Or, check out how much professors make.  If you do, you will notice that female professors make significantly less than male professors with similar qualifications.  You could also look at how programs and courses are funded.  Have you ever noticed the little trailor-like structure near Brock Hall?  It houses Women’s Studies!  You could also look for the “structure” housing “Critical Studies in Sexuality, but you wouldn’t find it, since it is a struggle to maintain the little bit of funding the program has to hold the course each year in itself.  And where is African Studies anyway?  And why does it take so long for a person in a wheelchair to find an accessible washroom in Buchanan (along with most other buildings at UBC)?  Now that I think about it, doesn’t UBC have a policy saying that no one will be denied access to an education at UBC based on financial constraints?  But many people have been denied – they just are not around campus to talk about it?!  These forms of oppression (and many others not listed here) are reinforced by everyday forms of violence, such as sexual assault, racist graffiti, homophobic vandalism, and forcing students to access food banks and/or work 3 jobs during university so that they can continue their education AND eat.

The impact of oppression and the violence it creates is far reaching.  It causes many people to feel fear, depression, isolation, and disconnection.  It also promotes social control of marginalized groups of people (the targets of oppression).  Imagine all the ways that living, working, and/or studying in such a hostile environment can affect a person. 

So what can we do to counteract oppression and violence at UBC? 

Seek out more information.  Check out UBC’s policies and employment statistics.  Talk to new people and ask them about their experiences on campus.  Check out the internet and books about UBC’s interesting past. Remember, knowledge is power…..the good kind!

Get involved.  There are a lot of people and services working to end oppression/violence on campus.  We need people to get involved in order to create a strong community where everyone is taken care of and valued.  There is strength in community.   

Speak out.  If you see oppression, name it.  Remember: no one if free while others are oppressed.    


1.     AMS Resource Groups at UBC
2.    Becoming an Ally by Anne Bishop
3.     Feminism is for Everyone by bell hooks


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