Each module page of this course will have a video, exercises, and a quiz to help you on your quest to become an ally. Please watch the following video before completing the exercises and quiz on this page.

Part 4 Video

Being an Active Ally

As the video described, allyship benefits everyone. Let’s consider some more reasons why active allyship is so important:

One way to think about what it means to be an ally is through the Ally-Agent Continuum developed by Jocelyn Landrum-Brown. An ally is a person who belongs to a dominant group and takes action to challenge the status quo and promote inclusiveness and social justice. The agent, on the other extreme, represents someone who belongs to a dominant group and takes action to maintain and support the status quo of privilege and oppression. In the middle, there are people who are passive and by not actively doing something to challenge or support the status quo, they still reinforce it.

image that illustrates how to be an active ally

Beverly Tatum uses the example of a moving walkway to explain this dynamic. The walkway moves in a set direction (status quo) and the agents are the people walking or running in the direction of the walkway. The passive is the person who stands in the moving walkway and moves along with it, and by not taking action, the system operates as expected (status quo). An ally is someone that you would see on the walkway walking the opposite direction that the walkway is moving. They are actively doing something that challenges the way things operate, thus challenging the status quo.

Think about the times when you have acted as an ally, agent, or passive person in the continuum and about the factors that facilitated or limited your actions.

Consistent with the idea of a passive person, a neutral or null environment is an environment that is neither actively affirming nor discriminatory to an oppressed group. Despite not being actively discriminatory, a null environment is still toxic to the mental health outcomes of oppressed communities. Only an actively affirming environment promotes positive social and mental health outcomes for oppressed communities. Acting as an ally will ensure more spaces that are open and affirming to all groups.

Minority Stress

Minority Stress Theory states that members of oppressed communities face increased rates of mental health concerns, and that this comes from living in a society where they face discrimination on interpersonal levels and in social institutions, like education and healthcare.


Members of oppressed groups also experience persistent, subtle, negative, and invalidating messages known as microaggressions. Examples include statements like:

  • “I don’t think of you as an actual Asian”
  • Being repeatedly asked “Where are you from?/Where are you REALLY from?”
  • A White person checking their wallet after a person from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group passes by in a store.

The inherent message in each of these examples is that people from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups are the other, scary, and do not belong.

Effects of Internalizing Oppression

When members of oppressed groups internalize the negative messages they receive in an unjust society, they are more likely to experience mental health concerns. For LGBT people, for example, this can mean: increased psychological distress (e.g., depression), difficulties in the coming out process, decreased life and career satisfaction, and increased rates of suicidality. Collaborations between allies and members of oppressed communities can create a healing dynamic.

Take some time to think about how you want to be as an ally? What would you like to accomplish? Where does this passion come from?

Allyship Skills

The first skill of allyship that was addressed in the video is applying the Responsibilities of Allies into our lives. These responsibilities included:

  • Acknowledging and openly discussing our privileges
  • Listening more and speaking less
  • Utilizing direct communication and integrity
  • Not expecting to be educated by oppressed group members
  • Growing in our capacity to accept criticism
  • Embracing the complex emotions that come from allyship
  • Recognizing that our needs come secondary to those we are working with as allies
  • Not expecting awards or special recognition

As in the video, I encourage you to reflect on these responsibilities:

  • Which do you already implement pretty well?
  • Which responsibilities are growth edges for you?
  • How can you strengthen your areas of growth?

Perhaps this will entail educating yourself more about your own cultural identity and the identities of others by reading books, articles, or taking diversity-focused courses, or maybe it will take greater experience working with members of oppressed groups.

Spheres of Influence

Up until this point, allyship may have seemed a bit amorphous. This is because, truthfully, there is no one way to be an ally! You actually have endless possibilities! What is important is to choose the sphere of influence at which you hope to make a change. Being able to apply your intervention to the appropriate sphere of influence is a developmental skill that will be helpful for you to hone as an ally. When we speak of spheres of influence, we mean individual, family/friends, social institutions (e.g., school), and community (e.g., city, state, national, international).

Here are just a few ways you could start being an ally for a diverse group, as adapted from Zuníga, Nagda, Chesler, and Cytron-Walker:
image that illustrates the spheres of influence

  1. Individual
    • Educating yourself about privilege and oppression by reading books about diverse cultures
    • Understanding your values and feelings
    • Taking a class related to social justice or social inequality
    • Creating an inventory of all of the ways that privilege and oppression have impacted your life. Consider how racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, etc. impact your life. Include your experiences of being a perpetrator of oppression and being oppressed.
    • Writing about your feelings for, thoughts about, and experiences with people who are different than you. Keep a journal. Write about where these thoughts, feelings, and experiences come from. How do you want to be in the world?
    • Examining how you want to change
  2. Familial/Friends
    • Influencing people closest to you
    • Engaging a family member in a conversation about race
    • Supporting a friend during their coming out process
    • Pointing out sexist, classist, racist, ableist, and/or homophobic/transphobic language among your friends, and describe why the language is harmful and inappropriate
  3. Social Institutions (e.g., school and work)
    • Influencing people and institutions with whom and where you interact on a regular basis
    • Speaking up in class when a teacher makes a transphobic remark
    • Talking to your boss at work about the lack of access ramps for people with mobility disabilities
    • Joining a campus organization relating to diversity and social justice; utilizing the responsibilities of allies in your interactions in this organization
  4. Community 
    • Influencing people and institutions within your larger community, including those with whom and where you interact infrequently
    • Helping organize a community, state, or national campaign targeting the repeal of a law that is heterosexist
    • Creating a social media campaign that addresses a form of inequity, such as racism in the criminal justice system, or LGBT bullying in public schools

It is really essential to figure out the sphere of influence in which you wish to make a change, and then, target your action accordingly.

Take some time to consider the following questions. It might be helpful to write down your answers.

  • How does reading the above examples inspire you?
  • What is an act of allyship you could do at each sphere of influence?
  • What do you really want to do as an ally?
  • What knowledge, skills, and resources do you need to put this plan into action? How can you obtain these pieces?


In addition to your greater self-awareness, knowledge of privilege and oppression (and your lived experience of both), commitment to the responsibilities of allies, and skill in identifying the sphere of influence to be an ally; Dialogue Skills will be an invaluable tool in your allyship toolbox. Dialogue skills are extremely useful in situations where we have to communicate across difference.

Nagda, Gurin, Rodriguez, and Maxwell (2008) highlight how Dialogue is a collaborative process in which multiple parties work toward creating shared meaning. Personal experience becomes a vehicle for gaining self-awareness and greater political understanding. The overarching goal of Dialogue is to create common understanding, through listening to other perspectives and seeking points of connection, and gaining clarity about feelings and thoughts. This contrasts sharply with Debate, which is at its core an oppositional process – the goal is to prove the other person wrong, and to make your voice be heard the loudest. Debate frequently leads to close-mindedness and confirmation of our own opinions and biases.

When we can approach a situation with the skills of Dialogue, we enter a conversation more open, and the results frequently include greater understanding and connection from both sides. The Dialogue process is outlined below, and is contrasted with Debate, as well as general Discussion.

Please consider the following questions:

  • What stands out the most to you while reading through the table?
  • What skills of Dialogue are you most comfortable with? Which seem the most challenging?
  • How can you integrate the skills of Dialogue in your Allyship work? How might this be challenging?
Discussion Debate Dialogue
Present Ideas Succeed or Win Broaden Our Own Perspective
Seek Answers/Solutions Look for Weakness Look for Shared Solutions
Persuade Others Stress Disagreement Find Places of Agreement
Enlist Others Defend Our Position Express Ambiguity
Give Answers Search for Flaws in Logic Discover Collective Meaning
Achieve a Pre-Set Goal Judge Other Viewpoints as Inferior, Invalid, or Distorted Challenge Ourselves and Other’s Preconceived Notion’s
Acknowledge Feelings and then Discount them as Inappropriate Deny Other’s Feelings Explore Thoughts and Feelings
Listen for Places of Disagreement Listen with a View to Counter Listen without Judgement with a View to Understand
Retain Relationships Disregard Relationships Build Relationships
Avoid Silence Use Silence to Gain Advantage Honor Silence
Avoid Areas of Strong Conflict and Difference Focus on Strong Conflict and Difference to Gain Advantage Articulate Areas of Conflict and Difference

We recognize that stories have so much power. Please take the opportunity to listen to others, as they share their experiences with oppression.


Please take the time to reflect with the questions below. We strongly encourage you to write down your thoughts and take your time:

  • What stood out to you the most from the videos?
  • If you were to write your own story of privilege and oppression (how you have experienced it), what would you say?
  • What would your call to action for allies be?

Test Your Knowledge

Take this quiz to test your allyship knowledge on what you learned in this module.