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Opinion: Unlearning Workshops teach valuable messages to entire OU community, regardless of social group

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Unlearning Workshops

A screenshot of the Unlearning Workshops on OrgSync. The workshops are for the greek community and will focus on learning about social issues such as ableism, sexism, racism and classism.

Last Tuesday morning, all students on OU’s OrgSync received an email inviting them to sign up for the Unlearning Workshops put on by Student Affairs. I was eager to sign up and registered for all four sessions right away. As a former chapter president for a greek organization, I was excited to have the opportunity to learn more about serious issues in our community so I could pass on my new-found knowledge to younger members, bettering our sorority to be even more inclusive of fellow OU students. While I felt that during my time in leadership at OU, I’ve been educated on the topic of racism, the topics of classism, sexism, and ableism are rarely brought into conversation. So, I believed this would be a great series of workshops to attend. 

I didn’t think the responses of other students would be so angry, and I just didn’t understand why they were. A lot of greek students seemed to have taken the introduction of this workshop series as the university telling us, as a greek community, that we were racist, sexist, classist and ableist. And if that’s the way I were to have taken it, I would have also been very angry. But, what many of these students don’t know is that for many of them, their past chapter leadership asked for help in these specific areas. Student Affairs took a lot of time developing and piloting these workshops to give us what we asked for. Last spring, chapter presidents were asked to send sophomore representatives to go through their pilot program. This shows just how long this series of workshop have been in the works. The representative from our chapter said she found it to be a vital program, saying, “It's not about pointing fingers or saying any group or organization is more guilty than others of having those -isms, but how to best confront those prejudices in a conducive and practical manner.” She also said the facilitators came prepared for varying opinions.

I attended the first of the Unlearning Workshops offered to the OU community, Unlearning Ableism, on Friday. Was this session that started at 9:00 a.m. on a Friday morning worth it? Absolutely. And based off our post-session conversation, I believe the other three students who attended would agree. The facilitators were specialized in the area over which they were presenting. I was impressed that it wasn’t simply Student Affairs or Student Life employees. We learned about the history of how individuals with disabilities have been treated. We learned about how pop culture perpetuates the stereotypes of people with disabilities and the type of language that is considered derogatory towards those individuals. And finally, we learned about changing our society to be more inclusive of those around us. After the two hour session, we were given the opportunity to ask questions and talk with the facilitators. This was a great place for those who don’t fully understand or who want to know more to have the chance to ask and speak in a non-judgmental safe space. 

I spoke directly with Brynn Daves, assistant dean of students, prior to the session starting and specifically asked her what prompted this program. She clarified that it was not about “targeting” greek students, but more about “tailoring” the program for us. She talked about how we are such a different group compared to other groups on this campus because we do pretty much everything together — we eat, sleep and socialize together. After hearing this, I realized that the greek community is different, and it’s important to present this program in a way that is pertinent to us. An example that came up in our post-session discussion that highlights this was the fact that we need to make our chapter houses friendlier for those who may have a physical disability. When we host recruitment and our houses require someone in a wheelchair to use a separate entrance, that is something that segregates them and keeps those individuals from experiencing recruitment, specifically sorority recruitment and rally lines, the same from the other potential new members. Just to clarify, the facilitators did not tell us this. It came from the discussion of greek students after the session. If this session and discussion is any prediction of how the other sessions will go, I have no doubt that I will be a better person after attending and so would just about any other student on this campus, greek or not.

Sydney Patrick is a member of the greek community at OU and a print designer for The Daily.

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