Abstract for:Using Community Based System Dynamics to Engage Allies in Anti-Oppression

Efforts to combat oppression have lasted for centuries; however, it is consistently those experiencing oppression who bear the burden of fighting for liberation. A major challenge to engaging privileged people in anti-oppression is that powerful balancing loops maintain their ignorance of the oppressive system and encourage them to react defensively to criticism. Community based system dynamics (CBSD), an extension of group model building, is a promising approach for overcoming these hurdles. CBSD’s emphasis on boundary objects avoids triggering defensiveness and the focus on developing capabilities helps participants see feedback structures sustaining oppression. However there is a gap in CBSD practice that creates the opportunity for participatory models to reinforce oppression.

Our work seeks to fill this gap by using subtle workshop design choices to persuade participants to adopt anti-oppressive mental models. We present examples of this approach in two CBSD projects focused on engaging allies in anti-oppression at a private Midwestern university. The first project engages white students in creating a more effective environment for discussing racism. The second project seeks to engage fraternity men in anti-violence by provoking insights about the toxic structures of masculinity that both sustain gender violence and harm men themselves. Procedures and insights are discussed.