Examining Privilege: An Effective Strategy for Overcoming Resistance in a Power and Oppression Workshop

Kathy Castania, Brenda Alston-Mills, Maryellen Whittington-Couse


We offer an approach for working with participants in a three-day retreat workshop on power, oppression, and difference. Opening Doors: A Personal and Professional Journey is a workshop designed in 1992 and revised in 2011 and 2015. High levels of resistance by participants to viewing personal experiences through the lens of privilege ultimately led to the development of a strategy that gives participants a path to examining and accepting the implications of privilege in their lives. This article describes a process whereby participants are asked to meet initially in identity groups based on where they have experienced exclusion and discrimination. In these groups participants share their experiences witnessing the privileges of members of the “dominant group” to their excluded group. This practice of meeting in excluded groups first confers their engagement with the concept of privilege, so that they experience less resistance to owning it in their dominant identities. Another key to the success of Opening Doors workshops has been the focus on integrating multiple oppressions simultaneously, and applying concepts of social identity development and intersectionality. This paper will outline the strategies, tools, beliefs, and language that led up to this unit and how a team of facilitators, with the aim of assisting participants in their movement, has effectively processed the nuances and complexities that arise during the group discussions.


White privilege; Intersectionality; Workshop activity; Overcoming resistance

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