NOTE: This activity has been adapted from the Conflict Resolution Activities for Middle School Skill-Building (CRAMSS) public, online repository of conflict education exercises.
Tell students that the activity they are about to do will allow them to experience and appreciate different types of power. During the activity, students should be thinking about how different power imbalances influence conflict and what could be done to create a more equitable playing field. Arrange students in a large circle, with the centre of the circle being an open, empty space. Two at a time, ask students to come into the center of the circle to complete an imbalance challenge.
Tell students that these challenges will put one person in a position of higher power and the other person in a position of lower power. Students completing the challenge (as well as those observing) should be thinking about what kinds of power imbalances are at play and how these power imbalances factor into their ability to succeed in the challenge.
Between challenges, take one minute to explicitly identify the power imbalance at play and briefly discuss how this power imbalance affects the challenge.
Continue suggesting new challenges until every student who wants a turn in the center of the circle has had one or after about 25 minutes.
Power Imbalance Challenges available in downloads section.
After completing the challenges, lead a 10-minute class discussion that challenges students to reflect on and articulate their experiences. Use any of the following prompts to direct the conversation:
- What did it feel like participating in a challenge with less power? What did it feel like participating in a challenge with more power?
- In general, are power and privilege taken into consideration when managing a conflict or are both people/parties usually assumed to be on an equal playing field?
- Can you think of an example of when power and privilege were taken into consideration?
- An example of when they were not taken into consideration?
- How did the outcome of these two relationships or experiences differ?
- How might failing to address power and privilege hinder progress or success?
- What action could have been taken in any of these challenges to address the power imbalance and create a more balanced environment?
- What can a person with more power and privilege do to advocate for someone with less power and privilege?
- Being an ally means using your privilege to help people who are facing oppressions that you may not personally experience. What do you think is involved with being an ally?
- Can you think of any real-world conflicts in which there is a large physical power imbalance? An imbalance in numbers? A communicative power imbalance? A resource power imbalance?
End this activity by relating the power imbalance challenges and class discussion to current and historical examples of power imbalances at play in Canada and abroad. Apply this lesson to a Social Studies class by considering historical events (ex. war, colonialism, women’s rights, etc.) from a perspective of power and privilege, and/or by identifying current movements that are centered around addressing power and privilege (ex. Black Lives Matter Movement, Me Too Movement, etc.).
Is it normal for me to feel guilty about my privilege?
Privilege is often something that you are born into. When people talk about privilege, and especially birth privilege, most people think of a wealthy, heterosexual, White male. But birth privilege is about so much more than gender or race. Things such as physical and intellectual abilities, family structure, living conditions, and so much more, are all aspects of your identity that you cannot control. You might feel guilty and ashamed of your privilege if you do not feel worthy of it. Unfortunately, feeling guilty about your privilege means that you end up spending all of your energy trying to renounce or avoid it. Moreover, denying your privilege is one way that power and privilege continue to be transferred from generation to generation. Instead of feeling guilty about your privilege or trying to deny it, acknowledge your privilege and use it to help inspire positive change.
What if I don’t want my privilege? Can I give it away?
You can’t just get rid of your privilege or give it away. When you dig a little deeper, you might realize that it’s not the privilege that you don’t want, but the injustices and inequalities that arise from different people or groups of people having more or less privilege. By recognizing this, you can transform the guilt or shame that you have about your privilege into passion or motivation to address these injustices and inequalities. You can become an agent of change and an ally to those who aren’t as fortunate as you.
How can I help less privileged students have the same opportunities that I do?
Being an ally means using your privilege to help support people who are facing oppressions that you may not experience yourself. For example, you may be an ally for LGBTQ+, Indigenous, or Black people, despite not personally identifying as LGBTQ+, Indigenous, or Black, respectively. However, being an ally is about more than just adopting a title. Allyship is hard work and requires a lot of time, dedication, and commitment. Here are some different things to consider if you want to contribute to a cause as an ally:
- Listen – Take the time to listen to people who are experiencing the oppression. This may require you to question your own beliefs and biases and change your mind about things that you have previously believed. Listening can be awkward, uncomfortable, and emotional, but it is always necessary. Ask respectful questions and make space for them to speak more than you.
- Learn – although it is important to learn from people who are experiencing oppression, you cannot expect them to teach you everything. It’s your responsibility to consult reliable resources (ex. books, documentaries, blogs) and learn as much as you can on your own time.
- Speak up – speak up when you hear people say things that are oppressive, disrespectful, or prejudiced. Start the conversation by saying something like, “That’s not cool” or “Why did you do that?” and try to help the person understand why their words might be oppressive or disrespectful.
- Educate others – Educate others within your own community. Being a member of a privileged group means that your voice is heard more when you speak about an issue so use your knowledge wisely. Start with talking to your family, friends, and peers.
- Create space – create and maintain safe spaces for people of all different backgrounds and experiences by being inclusive, respectful, and accepting.