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What is Allyship?

Written by Einar Jae Escoto on Aug 3, 2020

Related content: Diversity And Inclusion

It feels silly to say it’s the right thing to do when I’m asked why I’m passionate about allyship. But it’s true. Anyone who knows me has heard me say I’m always on the side of justice as an answer to any question. What matters to me most is that the people around me feel safe, heard, and seen. And that’s why I always strive to be an ally for everyone.

I’m passionate about allyship because of the ways my own allies have added more color, more love, and more joy into my life. Because of them, I am able to experience myself authentically in a safe space where I have an opportunity to explore my unfiltered needs and desires. I feel lucky every day to have the allies in my life, and I want that for everyone else, too.

To help others find their path to allyship, I’ve answered a couple of the most common questions I receive below. Some are simple, and some are complex, but all are important. While allyship takes more than one resource to understand and practice, I hope this serves as a good jumping-off point.

What is allyship?

Allyship is the act of decentering yourself in order to make space for others who don’t look like you. It is an intentional act of empathy. It is a verb. It is a continuum that teaches us about how to love those around us more fiercely and how to have compassion for ourselves in our moments of learning.

Who can be an ally?

We seek allyship from those around us when we want to be seen, heard, and loved. This allyship specifically, the type that forces us to look at our own unearned privileges and how we have benefited from them when others have not, is the type of allyship that truly calls upon us all. We all have privilege in one way or another, and recognizing our privilege, owning our privilege, does not simultaneously take away our own personal narratives of struggle. When we let go of our anger, resentment, and fear, we can make space for healing. It is in that space that we can experience true allyship with one another.

Why is allyship important?

If we want peace—not just peace outside of our own walls but peace within ourselves—we can build it through allyship. It is emotional labor to constantly take a hard look in the mirror, but on the other side of that is an opportunity to connect with ourselves and those around us much more freely. What we don’t understand makes us extremely uncomfortable, and many of us weren’t raised in a household where our emotional acuity was at the forefront of our upbringing. A lot of us are just now starting this allyship journey as adults that will require decades of unlearning. But to grow from that, to evolve, to feel the freedom of simply existing in the presence of others, that will open us up to more joy and more love.

How can allies support communities who are affected by racism, discrimination, oppression, and bias?

Understand your privilege, own it, and use it to magnify those who are left out of critical conversations. Consciously make the space for others from marginalized groups. Always continue the work of decentering yourself while also learning to honor your own story. Carve out space for others to exist as their authentic selves. Be hyper-vigilant about your own unconscious biases, give yourself the grace to make mistakes, and become better because of it. Stay curious. Continue to learn more, and when you think you’ve learned all you can, learn some more. Do the hard emotional work and trust that it will strengthen your professional and personal relationships. Donate your money and your time. Keep the people in your lives accountable, too. Do the work with them, encourage them, and learn with them.

What are some practical dos and don'ts of allyship?

Don’t feel you have to relate to be an ally.

Educate yourself. Do not depend on minorities to explain to you what you need to do to be an ally. Take the initiative to learn what you don’t know, build your emotional muscle, and give yourself the grace to understand this is decades and decades of unlearning.

Don’t seek validation for your allyship.

Learn how to give a proper apology.

Sit with yourself the times you are uncomfortable and explore that more. What are the biases that are showing up? How can you be more compassionate to yourself and others at that moment?

Don’t over-explain when you make a mistake, own it and move on. Do not identify with your mistakes and shame—you are a person who makes mistakes, not a bad person.

Make it your job to educate those around you.

Strengthen your emotional literacy.

And most of all, don’t think allyship has nothing to do with you. We should all be asking ourselves how we can show up better for those around us.

How is Mosaic, an employee-led diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committee at 2U that you served as the first chair of, promoting allyship?

Mosaic is working closely with 2U’s Learning & Development team on continual improvements to the company’s allyship training as feedback is received. We support 2U’s Business Resource Network (BRN) initiatives, constantly keep our eyes and ears on the ground, and hold 2U leadership accountable for our DEI company strategy.

How are you seeing allyship in action at 2U?

I have had the unique privilege of sitting with our company leaders as they not only navigate developing an anti-racist and inclusive company culture but also commit to their own personal work and emotional labor in order to properly show-up for 2Utes. It has also been a humbling experience to be in the room with BRN leadership and see the amazing contributions BRN members offer daily in our Slack group chats to help us learn and grow and become a more inclusive organization. I’ve seen it in my own department, Curriculum & Learning, where leaders have committed to carving out a space for true and honest feedback. There is much more work left to be done, but we have a strong foundation.

Learn more about us.

At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help universities thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.