Introduction to Power, Privilege, and Social Justice

Definitions to Lay the Groundwork

Before we start, here are a few terms that are referenced often in the information below.

Social identity is an individual's sense of who they are based on which social group(s) they belong to. Social identities allow individuals to have a sense of belonging. These groups can consist of but are not limited to:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Social class
  • Memberships in different organizations/clubs
  • and many more...

Power is the ability to influence and make decisions that impact others

Privilege is advantages and benefits that individuals receive because of social groups they are perceived to be a part of. Privilege is often a result of systematic targeting and/or marginalization of another social group.

Social justice is the practice of allyship and coalition work in order to promote equality, equity, respect, and the assurance of rights within and between communities and social groups.

How Identity Shapes Experience

Identity is complex and consists of multiple intersecting factors. For example, race, gender and/or socioeconomic status leads to differences not only in biological markers (skin color or physical features) and cultural markers (types of clothing), but also in shared traditions, beliefs, and/or biases. These identities not only impact the way society treats or views an individual, but also the way an individual interacts with others and their surroundings.

Identity shapes a person's experience to make it unique, even when they are in the same setting as someone else. For instance, a student who is low-income or trans might have a very different experience with Dartmouth than a more affluent, straight student due to the ways that power and privilege affect how they move through the world, how others view them, and what is expected of them.

The Importance of Social Justice

Social identities often shape our experiences, how we view the world, and the way society views and/or treats us. The social identities we carry are a basis for determining who may have power and privilege and who may be marginalized and oppressed.

Social justice is important because it gives us the opportunity to celebrate and learn from each other's diverse experiences and perspectives, builds a stronger campus community and impacts our daily lives. Social justice has the power to reform and improve access to and quality of education, healthcare, criminal justice and more. To make positive changes in the communities we are a part of, OPAL Education has a strong focus on social justice and peer to peer education and is dedicated to creating spaces "where all students can thrive, value difference, and contribute to the creation of a socially just world."

Next: Starting the Tough Conversations about Identity and Social Justice