|In the last two years, post-secondary institutions in Canada have amplified the imperative and the sense of urgency to address social inequities on campuses and beyond. The sector has been evaluating lessons learned from the unprecedented challenges it has encountered due to the protracted COVID-19 pandemic, which has spotlighted educational access and equity issues, most acutely affecting already historically marginalized groups (women, persons with disabilities, 2SLGBTQI+ communities, Indigenous peoples, and racialized communities). As well, during this time, both the United States and Canada are said to be experiencing a racial reckoning, given the rise in race-related and ethnicity-based xenophobia and a series of high-profile incidents of anti-Indigenous, anti-Black racism, anti-Asian racism, anti-Muslim, and antisemitism. These incidents have spotlighted the need for universities to do their part to address persistent systemic inequities underpinned by legacies of colonialism and institutionalized oppression. Consequently, more campus community members are seeking to join or renew efforts to advance equity and anti-racism, begging the question “what does it take to exercise effective allyship and change agency?|
|In the context of social change advocacy, those who work towards any form of justice from a position of being a member of a social group without lived experience of that form of injustice can work towards becoming an ally. An important aspect of effective allyship is the capacity to navigate intergroup dynamics – the relations of power among and between diverse members of a community who represent different and intersecting social group identities and lived experiences of social marginalization and oppression. Effective allyship requires a commitment to developing key competencies, including empathy, reflexivity, agency, and humility.|
|Empathy refers to the capacity to sense and appreciate another person’s emotions from their frame of reference. Effective allyship calls for an ethics of care and trauma informed practices. An ethics of care centres the human experience and concern for the wellbeing of individuals in relationships. Trauma-informed practices acknowledge the psychic and physical impacts of systemic oppression, seek to minimize secondary harm that may be caused by micro-aggressive interactions, and promote personal empowerment and self-determination.|
Reflexivity refers to a continuous process of self-examination of one’s worldview (values, assumptions, and beliefs). Effective allies are acutely aware of their social group identities and positionalities. Their social positionalities reflect their proximity to power – to social, cultural, political, and economic capital – which dictates the relative privilege or advantage conferred on them in their social and professional contexts.
|Humility refers to the ability to acknowledge the limits of one’s personal capacities and experiences, to demonstrate openness to others’ contributions to compensate for personal limitations and to show vulnerability by admitting mistakes when made. Confronting injustice is unsettling and discomforting intellectually and emotionally, especially when challenging the ways our own or others’ privilege is activated and contributes (intentionally or not) to individual or systemic inequities. Robin DiAngelo, an author and social justice educator, describes the phenomenon of fragility1 as a set of predictable or patterned responses that is a result, in part, of insulation from the direct harm or stress of oppression. Fragility is the opposite of humility, and it manifests as denial, rationalization, minimization, defensiveness, argumentation, disengagement, withdrawal, and even hostility, with underlying emotions such as fear, guilt, grief, anger, threat, and/or a sense of helplessness remain unacknowledged in intergroup dialogue. It takes courage to work through the emotional dissonance that emerges in the ethical space of engagement 2 – the space where two or more different social group realities interface with one another (Figure 1). This space is often referred to as a ‘brave space’ where ‘courageous conversations’ have the potential to effect positive change.|
|Agency refers to one’s capacity to influence others. In the context of advancing social justice in a higher education setting, change agency is best accomplished through a relational leadership style, which is emotionally intelligent, inspiring, and empowering. Change agency requires a deep understanding of relations of power and how to contribute to healthy power dynamics across diverse professional relationships. Effective allies have a nuanced understanding of when change agency calls for wielding vs. yielding power.
Here are just a few concrete ways to exercise allyship by employing empathy, reflexivity, humility, and agency.
Finally, it must be said that a hallmark of an ally is that they do not self-declare their allyship, no matter how developed their competencies may be. Whether one is worthy of the title of ally is to be determined by the communities for whom a person is seeking to demonstrate allyship.
 DiAngelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
 Poole, R. (1972). Towards Deep Subjectivity. London, UK: Allen Lane The Penguin Press.