History & Vision
In Fall of 2016, TOGETHER!’s board and staff decided to prioritize professional development in the areas of equity, diversity, and inclusion. The choice was made with the understanding that this work is necessary to fulfilling our mission of advancing the health and well-being of all young people. To do this, we entered a partnership with YWCA of Olympia’s Intercultural Foundations program and began the long process of assessing and developing our organization’s intercultural development. Since then, we have been working together to ensure that both our workplace and our programs equitably serve the needs of all employees and participants.
It began with the IDI Assessment. IDI stands for Intercultural Development Inventory, and is a tool used by corporations, schools, universities, nonprofits, and government agencies across the globe. The IDI measures five core mindsets and corresponding cultural competency behaviors on both the individual and the organizational level, and provides suggestions and prompts for developing higher levels of competency.
To help lead this process within our organization, at the suggestion of the Intercultural Foundations team, a group of interested staff formed the IDEA Group, which stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity Action Group. The IDEA Group meets once a month for three hours to address emerging issues within the organization that have to do with inclusion, equity and diversity; to create and implement a professional development plan for agency staff, including both individual and group opportunities; to tackle agency-wide projects that improve the cultural competence of the agency; and to act as an advisory committee for issues surrounding inclusion, equity, and diversity.
Acknowledging and combatting systems of oppression within a nonprofit organization is complex, difficult, long-haul work. Guided by the principles of compassion, courage, vulnerability and transparency (both internally and externally), the IDEA group nurtures and leads TOGETHER! to examine and address systems of oppression both inside and outside of our organization. The group asserts that this work is essential to equitably advancing the health, wellbeing, and success of all young people. IDEA believes:
- that addressing inequity first begins with building knowledge, understanding, and capacity within our organization.
- that equity is required to attain the highest level of health and wellbeing for all young people. Achieving equity requires valuing everyone equally with focused and ongoing efforts to address inequalities in health, education and society as well as historical and contemporary injustices.
- that systems of oppression exist throughout our society, community and agency, and that they hold us back from truly achieving our mission. We are committed to addressing these systems through conversation, advocacy, partnership, and policy change.
What is a system of oppression?
Systems of oppression are customs and habits that are built into the fabric of any society which favor certain people and groups at the expense of others. They manifest in a multitude of ways including unequal wealth distribution; education and health outcomes; likelihood of experiencing trauma, imprisonment, or homelessness; early mortality; and more. Systems of oppression are upheld in public policy, hiring and college acceptance practices, healthcare institutions, and law enforcement, among many other places.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism are all examples of systems of oppression, though there are many more at work in American society and others around the globe. The same systems of oppression are not necessarily at work in the same ways everywhere; different cultures may have different favored groups, though the favoring of lighter-skinned people, for example, is common around the world.
There are a few characteristics common to systems of oppression. They fall into four main categories (source: Center for Creative Conflict Resolution).
- Patterns of Abuse: Systems of oppression are not built or maintained by individual acts of discrimination or violence, but by long histories of such acts being performed systematically. For example, racism is not created by a single instance of redlining, but by hundreds of years of slavery, lynching, discriminatory laws and unfair labor practices.
- Social Justification: Systems of oppression are justified by the dominant group(s) as being necessary to maintaining an appropriate social order. For example, the belief that nonwhite immigrants must be kept out of the United States because their presence threatens the livelihood of white people.
- Secrecy: Specific acts of abuse are performed most often in private and kept hidden from public view, such as Klansmen wearing hoods to hide their identities, or the lack of media reporting around police shootings of unarmed Black men.
- Internal Distress: Conflicts that appear to be between oppressor and oppressed are actually conflicts that are interior to the oppressor but acted out in relationship to the oppressed (i.e. Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany was not about the behavior of Jews but about the anxiety of Aryans who couldn’t tolerate the humiliation of World War I).
Systems of oppression are most often upheld by the favored (sometimes called privileged or oppressor) group(s), but anyone, including oppressed people themselves, can and do uphold systems of oppression. When an oppressed person upholds the system that oppresses them, that system is referred to as internalized. One example of internalized sexism would be a woman teaching her children the principles of patriarchy, that girls must be quiet and peaceful while boys are naturally aggressive and unruly.
Why is acknowledging & combatting systems of oppression essential to our work?
TOGETHER!’s mission is to advance the health and well-being of all young people. Systems of oppression contribute to inequities in health and educational outcomes, so in order to be effective in our work we must understand how these systems operate in society and impact the youth we serve.
Recent research shows that social and environmental factors including income, access to healthy food, access to safe housing, early childhood education, social integration, and discrimination account for 20% of preventable deaths. That means that socially oppressed groups are considerably more likely to die prematurely because of the impacts of oppression on their quality of life. 40% of preventable deaths are attributed to personal behaviors such as diet, exercise, and drug/alcohol/tobacco use, which have been shown to disproportionately affect lower-income populations and people of color.
People of color experience worse health outcomes than white people in general, including higher instances of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and HIV/AIDS. Since there is no single gene that distinguishes members of one race from another, we know that this disparity cannot be genetic. Rather, a complex web of social influences create this condition, including chronic stress caused by the experience of violence and discrimination; disproportionately high rates of being uninsured and underinsured; and insufficient access to quality healthcare, healthy food, safe and affordable housing, and job opportunities.
Science shows that health can’t be considered separately from the well-being of the whole person, which is determined largely by the social context in which they live. At TOGETHER!, we aim to develop programs that address the social and emotional needs of youth, families, and communities so that all can lead healthier lives. We are committed to ensuring that our programs are safe, accessible and inclusive to all youth, regardless of their race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or ability, because we understand that not doing so can be a matter of life and death.