The Daily Illini

Training program shows how to be an ally

By Ciera Johnson, Contributing Writer

According to Ross Wantland, the director for diversity and social justice education at the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations (OIIR), an ally is someone who does more than just provide support to minorities. They actively try to create a change.

The OIIR is trying to teach this through their “How to be an Ally” training programs open to students, faculty and staff. The training explores different identities on campus and ways to support minority groups on campus.

At the University, there is a combination of eight cultural houses and resource centers that offer this training.

Ross Wantland, the director for diversity and social justice education, defines what it means to be an ally.  

“Ally is such a unique and sometimes overused term,” Wantland said.

He said that an ally is someone who is will to stand against acts of discrimination against minority groups.

“I think an ally is someone who has done some personal work to understand their own history and experiences and role in the ways that the world around them might be impacting folks in other groups,” Wantland said. “They are actively working to lessen that impact, and to be present and to stand up and to counter those negative forces.”

Jennifer Heaton is a program director for social justice and leadership education in residential life, as well as a co-chair for the ally network and training committee. While being an ally is important to minority communities across campus, Heaton explained there are often fears and challenges associated with being an ally as well.

“Some people may fear rejection or retribution from homophobic or transphobic friends, family or community members if they voice their support for the LGBTQA+ community,” Heaton said. “Some may fear that they may say or do the wrong thing when they try to offer support.”

She also offered insight on how people can support in ways that are not offensive or dangerous.

“The reality is that all allies show their support in different ways, based on their own skills, resources and connections, and every little bit helps,” Heaton said.

She said that any effort to do the right thing is better than no effort at all for people in the community too.

“It is better to risk making a mistake in an attempt to do the right thing than to stand by and watch while people are struggling with systems and people who don’t support their very humanity,” Heaton said. “If you mess up, you can apologize. If you don’t do anything at all, you’re making yourself complicit.”

Heaton continues by saying that in the current sociopolitical climate of our world, the LGBTQA+ community is vulnerable to dehumanization, discrimination and blatant hatred.

“The community needs allies now more than ever,” Heaton said.

Both Wantland and Heaton emphasize that being an ally is beneficial to both community and non-members. It goes towards improving the well-being of both parties involved.

Angelita Calhoun is a sophomore at the University and the student intern working on outreach and community for the Bruce Nesbitt African-American Cultural Center (BNAACC).

Calhoun discussed that sometimes allies cross boundaries by taking away from the movement of the minorities and making it a universal issue. She mentions the Black Lives Matter as an example. She said that some people join the movement and start calling it “All Lives Matter” instead, which she believes takes away from the goal.

She said it insults the movement and acts as a mockery to those who have been killed or dehumanized by these acts of hatred.

“We understand that All Lives Matter, but Black Lives Matter … because we are the ones that are being targeted. So, for them to say All Lives Matter, it’s just going against what we’re trying to push for,” Calhoun said.

In order to be an effective ally and to support minority communities, Calhoun emphasizes that it is up to the allies to educate themselves.

“So, if you are really looking to support us, learn about what we’re doing … you can’t do it based off of what’s cool or what’s popular at the time,” Calhoun said.

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