Students Can Help Stop Cycles of Oppression, Says Diversity Expert Rodney Glasgow

rodney2The different aspects of a person’s identity are critically important to how they see themselves and how the world sees them. And while identifiers like race, gender and religion are affirming in many circumstances, they can also result in negative stereotypes, prejudice and oppression, educator Rodney Glasgow told students this week.

Mr. Glasgow, who is a speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and equality, spent time with the Middle School Tuesday morning leading a discussion about the cycle of oppression and the role of identity in individual lives and society. Mr. Glasgow’s visit was part of an ongoing partnership with the entire School to explore issues of race and identity.

Students broke into their advisory groups for an activity to help them define the different stages in the cycle of oppression: fear of difference, stereotypes, prejudice, discrimination, institutional oppression and internalized oppression.

“Our identities help us understand who we are, and they are often positive, but issues surrounding identity can also cause a lot of heartache,” Mr. Glasgow told students, explaining that institutional and internalized oppression can negatively impact individual lives and entire communities.

People are biologically inclined to put themselves into groups that share their identities, Mr. Glasgow said—such instincts kept people alive at the beginning of human history. Problems arise from stereotypes that are based in fear of differences, which are used by people in power to oppress others.

When oppression becomes internalized, it can make a person doubt their abilities and sense of belonging, Mr. Glasgow said.

“It can make you not seek opportunities because you’re ‘not supposed’ to do that, and ask yourself, ‘Am I worthy? Do I belong here?’” Mr. Glasgow said. He challenged students to interrupt the cycle of oppression by rejecting prejudice and discrimination.

Chair and Founder of the National Diversity Practitioners Institute, Mr. Glasgow has a long and distinguished career in this work. He serves today as chief diversity officer and head of middle school at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Maryland. Mr. Glasgow earned degrees in Afro-American studies and psychology at Harvard University and holds a master of arts in organization and leadership from Columbia. He is an independent school alum, having graduated from Gilman School. He is also president of The Glasgow Group, a consortium of dynamic and innovative consultants.