Fellows Guest Blog: Stephanie Lam on Privilege, Power, and Progress

Stephanie Lam (second from the right) is a passionate lifelong learner with an interest in the intersection of public health, health promotion, and medicine. She is finishing her last few semesters of her undergraduate degree at Simon Fraser University in the Faculty of Health Sciences (Population and Quantitative Health).

Read on to hear about Stephanie’s reflection on her experience in the 2019 RADIUS Fellowship cohort.

It’s the end of the academic semester which means deadlines, exams, projects and stress. The last thing I wish to do is to think about the hard hitting questions of life.  Of course, leave it to RADIUS to ask me to understand and process my position, power and privilege within the system of life, and for me to wholeheartedly engage in these conversations.

I’ve spent a year navigating through various opportunities in and out of SFU and I have come to accept that I will never find an institution that promotes authentic self-reflection more than RADIUS.

It’s a Tuesday night and I am sitting in the classroom, reflecting on the different identities, experiences, stories, and ancestors that has lead us to be who we are today. It’s exhausting, yet liberating at the same time.

Last week, we explored an identity-development model by Leticia Nieto which asked us to look at the ranks we each hold on a day-to-day basis.  In the systems we belong to, we have socially constructed “agent” ranks made up of qualities that are socially overvalued/privileged and “target” ranks from qualities we have that are systematically undervalued.

We were asked to identify target and agent ranks that we hold in our own lives and to form “affinity groups” according to those. This is where the power of shared lived experiences comes in. As we convened for 15 minute sessions, the members of each  affinity group found community, safety, and comfort as we bonded over emotions that come from being part of a shared systems of oppression. Being in the shared presence of these affinity groups (even without sharing words of discovery), already allowed me feelings of comfort and safety that I’ve never felt before.

But it’s also not characteristic of RADIUS to ignore our positions of privilege and power. We spent another 15 minutes exploring our positions in a shared system of privilege and how we are able to navigate these systems to shift our ways of understanding to become accomplices. This allowed us all to recognize and explore that no matter who we are, we have all been through experiences that have inflicted both systematic privilege and oppression.

While I gained a tremendous amount of reflective self-work in this session, I am most fortunate to be doing it with the most inspiring individuals who will continuously hold space for self-discovery as a collective group. We leaned upon each other as the conversations became increasingly difficult and created a safe environment for this work to happen. What strikes me most about this group is how willing they are in holding these spaces of deep self-reflection beyond the three hours a week we spend with each other. I know one of the most important things I will get from being part of the Fellowship is a safe space to continue these conversations around our position, power, and privilege within the systems of life.

Want to support Stephanie and her fellow cohort members at the next RADIUS event, Emerge?

Join us on May 14 for Emerge (formerly known as concAUCTION), an evening of relationship building and community problem solving, where Fellows will be looking to cultivate the relationships essential for their systems-change work.

Tickets available here.