We hear the term a lot these days, but what exactly is an ally?
Being an ally means recognizing oppression broadly and standing in solidarity with anyone who experiences oppression—whether or not the ally also belongs to a targeted group (Teaching Tolerance, 2016).
Some examples of groups who often experience oppression include women/girls, religious minorities, folks in the LGBT community, people with disabilities (mental, emotional, and physical), and young people.
And who needs allies? Well, my answer would be: we all do. Almost everyone at some point in their lives will need an ally—someone to speak up for their rights, correct falsehoods, and work to counter injustice. As a troop leader, you can be an ally to the girls in your troop, the families you work with, and others in your community. You also have an amazing opportunity to help your Girl Scouts be allies themselves. Read on for five steps to being an effective ally:
- Be Ready
Not sure how to do that? Stay tuned—the rest of this post should help. Know that unless we are ready, we often don’t speak up or take action. Many of us can point to those moments when someone should have said or done something. From now on, that someone is you—and this post will help you on your way.
- Educate Yourself and Others
If we aren’t seeing the oppression/injustice that is happening, we can’t take action and be an ally. Taking the time to learn about what folks and families are facing on a daily basis (including the girls in your troop) is important (and may even surprise you!). Learning what we are hearing or seeing on TV is impacting your own community can enable you to be a more effective ally for your girls and your neighbors. Taking this step will help you become a better ally, learn new ways of working for justice and equity, and how to create a safe space for all identities in your community.
- Speak Out Against Intolerance and Hate
It is imperative that we interrupt hate speech and model speaking up—even when it is seen as unpopular or difficult. Young people watch us and take their clues about how they should act from how we act. If you hear a girl in your troop say something false, close-minded, or hurtful about a group of people—engage the group in an educational conversation. While the goal should never be to shame girls, we do need to hold them accountable for their words and actions and use this as a teachable moment. When in doubt, bring the girls back to the Girl Scout Law and facilitate a conversation about respect, what courage looks like in the face of not understanding, aligning our actions with our values, and in the end—how those words or actions are (or aren’t) helping to make the world a better place.
- Encourage Empathy
Whether your troop is in a homogenous or diverse community, fostering empathy with diverse groups is one of the most powerful ally actions we can take. Research shows that when we can find a true connection with others who are different than we are, we help to minimize our unconscious biases and are less likely to tease, bully or judge them. Lead a discussion and facilitate activities that foster empathy—be intentional about your planning and know what you want the girls to get out of it. Introduce multiple viewpoints, perspectives, and identities to the girls to help expand their worldview and their understanding.
- Amplify the Voice of the Girls in Your Troop
One of the things that marginalized groups often need assistance with is being heard. “Speak up, but not over” is great advice in these instances. When groups are marginalized, people often make assumptions about what they feel (or should be feeling) as well as what they need. Resist the urge to do this with the girls in your troop. Ask them questions, help them think through ideas, assist them in finding the words or actions that fit, and then let them lead.
Finally, as Francesca Leigh Ramsey says in one of my favorite videos about ally work, “Last but not least, actually the MOST important, is remember that ally is a verb.” Ally is not a label, but rather, the actions we take to build a better community and a more just world.
Kelly C. Weiley – Kelly is a Trainer and Executive Coach with CoAct Consulting, where she focuses her work on Diversity and Inclusion, Leadership Development, and Teaching and Learning. Kelly is grateful to work with a wide variety of clients—ranging from middle and high school students and teachers to nonprofit, government, and private sector professionals. Kelly holds a Master of Science degree in Social Responsibility from St. Cloud State, where she has also taught both undergraduate and graduate courses in Human Relations and Multicultural Education. She recently wrapped up two years at the University of Minnesota, teaching a class called “Navigating Difficult Conversations” as part of the Student Academic Professional & Personal Success Program. Kelly draws upon her classroom experiences to root her trainings in research and theory, but always circles back to how principles apply to individuals, urging them to practice skills that improve performance, foster growth, and nurture effective leaders.