The definition of oppression is a group that’s in power keeping another group down, according to ACT for Social Justice.

Oppression was discussed frequently at the Advocacy, Consulting, and Training for Social Justice Workshop: Focus on ability on Feb. 27.

The workshop was led by Mel Motel and Angela Berkfield, both from Brattleboro, Vermont.

Berkfield opened the workshop by explaining the goals the group has to a mix of students, faculty and staff, most of whom said they were there for learning opportunities.

He said their goals are to raise awareness/consciousness about oppression and privilege, to name a common language, to connect awareness to what is happening at Keene State College, to get people talking and to inspire action.

Jordan Crowley / Equinox Staff

Jordan Crowley / Equinox Staff

The participants also had a set of agreements that Berkfield explained to ensure a safe, secure and respectful environment for all.

Berkfield had a student explain a system for conversation.

The student said that green stands for a topic that’s comfortable to talk about, yellow stands for conflicted discussion but not unsafe for the individual and red stands for a place in the conversation where the individual is at an uncomfortable, shutting-down point.

Motel then went on to discuss “ableism” with the participants.

Ableism, she explained, is prejudice or discrimination against people with disabilities in favor of those who are able-bodied or have a set of beliefs that are viewed as “normal.” Motel and Berkfield presented a Youtube video about ableism that made connections about people with disabilities and how they are not always visible.

The participants discussed how people make assumptions that everyone has the same ability to do things.

Alyssa Marinaccio, who works for disabilities services here at KSC, said instead of teaching disabled people how to communicate with the rest of the world, why don’t we teach the rest of the world how to communicate with them?

The group then discussed how people’s perspectives need to change and also how everyday language can reflect oppression.

Berkfield gave an example of something as simple as someone bragging about how well they are doing at work as a comment that reflects ableism.

The participants said they agreed as a whole that there is a long way to go for people with disabilities and their acceptance. Berkfield and Motel then had the group split up into smaller groups to discuss how ableism shows up at KSC.

The group came up with many solutions, some of which included a universal architectural design that is disability-friendly, plans that get people talking, education (especially for faculty) and discussing a strategic plan.

Resident Director Megan Barbato said that an online forum should be created for people to brainstorm ideas and something specific to talk about and address and receive feedback. She said that more disability friendliness should be highlighted by the college so it is more welcoming.

Berkfield said that many of the things that were discussed in the workshop overlap with other workshops discussing racism.

Motel emphasized how the workshop turned out awesome and how the group’s hour-and-a-half discussion could have gone on much longer.

She explained that she learned a lot by participating in the discussion, like how she also makes ableism assumptions. For example, she said she just assumed everyone here could hear what she was going to speak about and could see the video she presented.

This workshop was part of a series. The next sessions are on March 11 and 24, according to Motel. The Campus Commission of Diversity, Equity and Inclusiveness sponsored the event in the Student Center Atrium Conference room.

Savanna Balkun can be contacted at

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