Why Should We Be Using Anti-Oppressive Practices to Support Student Mental Health on Campus?
There are several reasons why Anti-Oppressive Practices are a key component of helping us to advance our systems in order to better support student mental health. The first is that, by its nature, it is a whole- campus approach. Anti-Oppressive Practice requires us to look at individual level practices as well as institution-wide practices. Practices and policies on all levels are necessary to create cultural shifts on campus. There is a role for every person on campus to play in the implementation and use of these practices. No one must take this on by themselves or go it alone.
Anti-Oppressive Practices can serve two major roles at post-secondary institutions – to make our campuses more accessible, welcoming spaces for students and to help staff become more aware of how their own roles are situated within our campus structures.
Anti-Oppressive Practices also make space for the different perspectives and lived experiences that students have. It allows these perspectives and experiences to exist laterally. No one is better or worse or more right or wrong than the other (Amoakohene, Harris-Mungo & Pankewich, 2021). When we bring Anti-Oppressive Practices into our work, we can better understand the experiences of others, as opposed to evaluating them through the lens of our personal experience. This increased understanding better positions us to be able to see how the systems within our post-secondary institutions can impact students of varying identities differently.
Anti-Oppressive Practices also encourage curiosity and learning on our campuses. When we begin to critically question the practices and procedures we have always followed, it allows us to uncover information about the unique experiences of students from varying intersections on campus. This means that we can then create common ground and understanding of our
unique experiences and begin to learn together, as opposed to calling people out when they make mistakes or get things wrong, when trying to understand students’ experiences. (Amoakohene, Harris-Mungo & Pankewich, 2021).
Our post-secondary institutions are also well positioned to take on the work of Anti-Oppressive Practice. Since the 1990’s, universities and colleges have had offices on campus that focus on work and initiatives related to equity, diversity, and inclusion. This work has taken place in many departments including human rights offices, equity offices, diversity offices and human resources offices (Henry et al., 2017). These offices hold institutional knowledge about how equity issues have been addressed in the past and how we can work towards creating more equitable campus policies and practices. With further resources and support, they can be spaces that support individual and community evolution in Anti-Oppressive Practice as well as structural and cultural shifts on campus.
Anti-Oppressive Practices can also have great benefits for the individuals who engage in them. When we engage in Anti-Oppressive Practice, it helps us to become more self-aware. As we come to better understand the intersection of our own identities, we realize that others also have many components to their own identities and that depending on the context or scenario that one is in, certain identities may be more salient than others in that moment (Amoakohene, Harris-Mungo & Pankewich, 2021). We become more reflexive as we question practices and policies and identify how they may be negatively impacting students. Once we realize this, we gain a better understanding of the students we are working with. This can lead to better interactions with students and facilitate stronger relationships and partnerships with them based on empathy and mutual respect.
Anti-Oppressive Practices also ensure that students feel recognized in our campuses spaces and that they both belong and are welcomed on our campus. When students truly feel that they are part of the campus community, as opposed to being unwelcome outsiders, this feeling of belonging contributes positively to their mental health and well-being and can encourage them to become more engaged with campus life (Amoakohene, Harris-Mungo & Pankewich, 2021).
When we engage in Anti-Oppressive Practices, campuses become communities where students do not just simply feel welcomed and part of the community, but where they are actively being welcomed into the community. Through the actions we consciously take to dismantle the barriers they faced by restructuring our systems and intentionally planning our programs, courses, etc. This kind of work takes time and is an ongoing process.