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About Change U

Change U is a social justice program offered through the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center at Grand Valley State University. What is unique about Change U is its approach to social justice, in that it looks at the following:

  • systems of oppression in addition to individual injustices 
  • an intersectional analysis of these systems of oppression
  • the rich history of social justice movements in the U.S. and in Grand Rapids in order to provide insight and inspiration on how to organize 
  • concrete organizing skills for the purpose of movement building and collective liberation

Change U consists of mutual and applied teaching and learning facilitated through large group presentation, small group discussion, skill building/sharing, group brainstorming, and the development of strategies and tactics to resist systemic injustice. This social justice program  uses a relational organizing model, which promotes community building and learning from the lived experiences of all who participate. Valuing our deep ties to the community, Change U is free and available to GVSU students, faculty and staff, as well as community members from West Michigan. We seek to develop a critical analysis in order to envision the kind of world we want to live in, to practice that vision in how we organize, and to struggle together for collective liberation. 

Points of Unity

  • We believe in grassroots, participatory democracy as a group and will use consensus as a model for both learning and decision-making during Change U.
  • We are opposed to all systems of oppression: White Supremacy, cis-hetero-Patriarchy, ageism, Speciesim, Capitalism, religious intolerance, imperialism, etc.
  • We believe that the current economic system of Capitalism does not serve the interests of the majority of people and that economic justice must be part of all of our social justice work for the future.
  • We believe in ecological integrity, environmental justice and the urgent need for humanity to prevent catastrophe from Climate Change.
  • We are committed to creating more dialogue and collaboration between social justice sectors and practicing the intersectionality of all social justice efforts in West Michigan.
  • We are committed to understanding how state, national and international policies impact the social justice work being done at the local level.
  • We are committed to building transformative relationships with each other.
  • We are committed to systemic change.

Change U Glossary of Terms

Ableism – are the practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities. A set of practices and beliefs that assign inferior value (worth) to people who have developmental, emotional, physical or psychiatric disabilities. A set of assumptions (conscious or unconscious) and practices that promote the differential or unequal treatment of people because of actual or presumed disabilities.

Activism – Activism is when an individual or group of people engage in an activity that protests something, but may not be calling for systemic change. Someone may choose to not eat at McDonalds because of their environmental record or because the food they serve necessitates the killing of animals. In contrast, an organizer would attempt to organize the workers at a McDonalds, organize a formal boycott of the fast food company and/or organize a worker-run food co-op that provides a clear alternative to McDonalds.

Affinity Group - An affinity group is a small group of people who support each other and work together to change the world. Often, an affinity group consists of people who have developed trust over a period of time and have a relationship with each other outside of political work. Affinity groups also have the capacity to make independent decisions about what actions to take within larger movements and actions.

Ageism – is stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups because of their age. It is a set of beliefs, attitudes, norms, and values used to justify age based prejudice, discrimination, and subordination.

Anthropocentrism - is the position that human beings are the central or most significant species on the planet, or the assessment of reality through an exclusively human perspective. The term can be used interchangeably with humanocentrism, while the first concept can also be referred to as human supremacy. Anthropocentrism is a major concept in the field of environmental ethics and environmental philosophy, where it is often considered to be the root cause of problems created by human interaction with the environment; however, it is profoundly embedded in many modern human cultures and conscious acts.

Capitalism - is an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital assets and goods, which uses government protections & regulations and exploits the labor of the working class. Capitalism by its very nature requires constant growth, both in terms of profits and markets.

Cis Gender - A cisgender person is someone who identifies as the gender/sex they were assigned at birth. For example, your birth certificate says female, and you identify as a female woman. 

Classism - is differential treatment based on social class or perceived social class. Classism is the systematic oppression of subordinated class groups to advantage and strengthen the dominant class groups. It’s the systematic assignment of characteristics of worth and ability based on social class.

Consensus - Consensus is a process for group decision-making. It is a democratic method by which an entire group of people can come to an agreement. The input and ideas of all participants are gathered and synthesized to arrive at a final decision acceptable to all. Through consensus, we are not only working to achieve better solutions, but also to promote the growth of community and trust.

Direct Action - Put simply, direct action is when people take action to further their goals, without the interference of a third party. This means the rejection of lobbying politicians or appealing to our employers' generosity to improve our conditions. In doing so, we empower ourselves by taking control of and responsibility for our actions. So, fundamental to direct action is the idea that we can only depend on each other to achieve our goals.

Environmental Justice – This is a term that came out of the struggle by communities of color in the 1980s that were fighting against environmental contamination, issues like the location of waste incinerators or pesticide exposure by migrant workers, especially since the large White environmental groups were not paying attention to these issues. Environmental Justice has evolved to include ecological sustainability and just human interaction, particularly when it comes to economics. For example, a just food system would be ecologically sustainable, make sure that all labor involved was treated with dignity and respect, and included the right of every community to determine what kind of food system they wanted.

Gender – Although the concepts of gender, sex, and sexuality are interrelated, it is often useful to differentiate among them. Gender usually, refers to constellations of characteristics commonly regarded as feminine and masculine. While sex is generally believed to be biologically innate, gender is believed to be socially acquired.

Genderqueer – Genderqueer is used to refer to all manner of identities and sexualities that expose the mismatch between sex, gender and sexual desire for those who are unwilling or unable to define themselves in terms of the established binary.

Heterosexism- is the belief that everyone is heterosexual and that heterosexuality is the only acceptable way of being. This belief, which relies on the idea that the majority rules and is therefore normal, is often the source of homophobia.

Homophobia - It's all the negative attitudes that can lead to rejection and to direct or indirect discrimination towards gay men, lesbians, and bisexual, transsexual or transgender people or toward anyone whose physical appearance or behavior does not fit masculine or feminine stereotypes.

Hegemony – The term hegemony refers to power, particularly of a state, that exerts a controlling influence over others.

Imperialism - is the practice of a larger country or government growing stronger by taking over poorer or weaker countries that have resources or play an important geopolitical role for the US.  The US has a long history of engaging in imperialist practices.

Indy Media – A movement that began around the world after the 1999 demonstrations at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. Indy Media is: 1) when activists who have been frustrated by corporate media coverage make their own media; 2) news coverage of critical issues of the day that doesn’t follow a corporate model of journalism, with a heavy emphasis on exposing structures of power and giving voice to marginalized populations.

Institutional Racism – is when any institution or system oppresses, exploits or discriminates against a group of people based on race for the purpose of maintaining power.

Interlocking Systems of Oppression - imperialism, racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism -- rely on each other in complex ways.  This "interlocking" effect means that the systems of oppression come into existence in and through each other so that class exploitation could not be accomplished without gender and racial hierarchies, imperialism could not function without class exploitation, sexism and heterosexism, and so on.  Because the systems rely on each other in these complex ways, it is ultimately futile to attempt to disrupt one system without simultaneously disrupting others.

Intersectionality - "Intersectionality" is the name that is now given to the complex of reciprocal attachments and sometimes polarizing conflicts that confront both individuals and movements as they seek to "navigate" among the raced, gendered, and class-based dimensions of social and political life. Both as individuals seeking to make a socially just and fulfilling "everyday life," and as collectivities seeking to "make history" through political action and social movements, we struggle with the unstable connections between race, gender, and class.

Military Industrial Complex - is a concept commonly used to refer to policy and monetary relationships between legislators, national armed forces, and the military industrial base that supports them. These relationships include political contributions, political approval for military spending, lobbying to support bureaucracies, and oversight of the industry. It is a type of iron triangle. The term is most often used in reference to the system behind the military of the United States, where it gained popularity after its use in the farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 17, 1961,[2] though the term is applicable to any country with a similarly developed infrastructure.

Neo-liberalism - "Neo-liberalism" is a set of economic policies that have become widespread during the last 40 years or so. Although the word is rarely heard in the United States, you can clearly see the effects of neo-liberalism here as the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer. Neo-liberalism includes government deregulation of the market, the downsizing or privatizing of social services, privatization, the end of the common good and the rule of the market.

Non-Profit Industrial Complex - The non-profit industrial complex (or the NPIC) is a system of relationships between: the State (or local and federal governments), the owning classes, foundations and non-profit/NGO social service & social justice organizations. This relationship results in the surveillance, control, derailment, and everyday management of political movements.

Nonviolence - Nonviolence is the practice of being harmless to self and others under every condition. It comes from the belief that hurting people, animals or the environment is unnecessary to achieve an outcome and refers to a general philosophy of abstention from violence based on moral, religious or spiritual principles.

Nonviolent Action - Nonviolent action is a technique by which people who reject passivity and submission, and who see struggle as essential, can wage their conflict without violence. Nonviolent action is not an attempt to avoid or ignore conflict. It is one response to the problem of how to act effectively in politics, especially how to wield powers effectively.

Oppression – The systematic exploitation of one social group by another for its own benefit; it involves institutional control, ideological domination, and the imposition of the dominant group's culture on the oppressed group. Oppression is different from discrimination, bias, prejudice, or bigotry because:1) it is pervasive -- woven throughout social institutions as well as embedded within individual consciousness; 2) it is restricting--structural limits significantly shape a person's life chances and sense of possibility in ways beyond the individual's control; 3) it is hierarchical--the dominant or privileged groups benefit, often in unconscious ways, from the disempowerment of subordinated or targeted groups; 4) the dominant group has the power to define and name reality and determine what is "normal," "real," or "correct."

Organizing for social justice – see activism

Patriarchy – is an unjust social system that is oppressive to both women and men, but is a system that is primarily beneficial to men. In feminist theory the concept of patriarchy often includes all the social mechanisms that reproduce and exert male dominance over women. Feminist theory typically characterizes patriarchy as a social construction, which can be overcome by revealing and critically analyzing its manifestations.

Prison Industrial Complex - The prison industrial complex (PIC) is a term we use to describe the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.

Political Assimilation – Assimilation is the process by which an individual or group goes through to be part of the dominant culture. It means to fit in or to be equal to, as in when the LGBT community fights for the right to be out in the US military.

Political Autonomy – Political autonomy is when groups of people choose to remain autonomous or independent of institutions or structures, thus allowing them to make decisions independent of those institutions or structures. For example, if a labor union decides to not be part of a political party it is choosing to be autonomous from that group. This does not mean that they cannot engage that political party or try to pressure it, it means that they are not beholden to what that particular political party decides to do.

Political Liberation – Liberation occurs when an individual or group chooses a process by which they liberate themselves from the dominant culture or systems of oppression. For example, political liberation occurs when we decide to eliminate the prison industrial complex as opposed to just trying to reform it.

Political Resistance Movements – Political Resistance Movements use direct action as a primary tactic to achieve its goals, but may also include self-defense, force or violence in the process. Some examples historically are the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, Earth First or the Zapatista Movement in Southern Mexico.

Political Strategy – (see political tactics) – Another example of a strategy might be if we were working on an anti-imperialism campaign. If your group wanted to end the US occupation of Afghanistan, the strategy might be to stop more Americans from entering the military. The tactics used might be an education campaign, confronting military recruiters in schools, blockading a military recruiting center and offering a viable alternative to people who are joining the military for economic stability.

Political Tactics – are tactics that individuals and groups use to fulfill a particular strategy. For example, if your goal is to get Israel to end their occupation of Palestinian land, you would use a variety of tactics to achieve say the strategy of participating in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign, also known as the BDS campaign.

Pre-Figurative Politics - Prefigurative politics are the modes of organization and social relationships that strive to reflect the future society being sought by the group. The desire is to "be the change we want to see in the world" as Gandhi wrote. The term, "prefigurative politics," was first used by Wini Breines specifically with reference to the new left movements of the 1960s. She was referring to the different ways of thinking and organizing in the new movements in part as a rejection of the centrism and vanguardism of many of the groups and political parties of the time. It is both a politics of creation, and one of breaking with hierarchy.

Sexism - The word "sexism" became widely known during the Women's Liberation Movement of the 1960s. At that time, feminist theorists explained that oppression of women was widespread in nearly all human society, and they began to speak of sexism instead of male chauvinism. Whereas male chauvinists were usually individual men who expressed the belief that they were superior to women, sexism referred to collective behavior that reflected society as a whole.

Social Movements for Liberation – The US has a rich history of social movements for liberation, beginning with the Abolitionist Movement. Such movements sought to overthrow a system(s) of oppression like chattel slavery, wage slavery, patriarchy, heterosexism, ableism, etc. Women fighting for the right to be the CEO of a corporation is not a social movement for liberation, but a social movement of inclusion and assimilation.

Solidarity – Solidarity is first entering into a relationship with people who are being oppressed. Once a relationship is developed, you take action that best supports the struggle that an individual or group is engaged in.

Speciesism - (also referred to as human supremacism) involves the assignment of different values, rights, or special consideration to individuals solely on the basis of their species membership. The term is mostly used by animal rights advocates, who argue that speciesism is a prejudice similar to racism or sexism, in that the treatment of individuals is predicated on group membership and morally irrelevant physical differences. The argument is that species membership has no moral significance.


Structural (Systemic) Violence - Structural violence refers to systematic ways in which social structures harm or otherwise disadvantage individuals.  Structural violence is subtle, often invisible, and often has no one specific person who can (or will) be held responsible (in contrast to behavioral violence).

Systems of Oppression – Imperialism, Colonialism, Racism (White Supremacy), Patriarchy, Heterosexism, Ableism, Classism (Capitalism), etc.

"It is virtually impossible to view one oppression in isolation because they are all connected: racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, anti-Semitism, ageism. They are linked by a common origin--economic power and control--and by common methods of limiting, controlling and destroying lives. There is no hierarchy of oppressions. Each is terrible and destructive. To eliminate one oppression successfully, a movement has to include work to eliminate them all or else success will always be limited and incomplete.”  --Suzanne Pharr, from her book Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism

Transgender – Transgender refers to people who were born as biological females, but identify internally, and often socially, as men, as well as people who were born as biological males but identify internally, and often socially, as women.

Transphobia - is an irrational fear of, and/or hostility towards, people who are transgender or who otherwise transgress traditional gender norms.

White Privilege - White privilege refers to any advantage, opportunity, benefit, head start, or general protection from negative societal mistreatment, which persons deemed white will typically enjoy, but which others will generally not enjoy. These benefits can be material (such as greater opportunity in the labor market, or greater net worth, due to a history in which whites had the ability to accumulate wealth to a greater extent than persons of color), social (such as presumptions of competence, creditworthiness, law-abidingness, intelligence, etc.) or psychological (such as not having to worry about triggering negative stereotypes, rarely having to feel out of place, not having to worry about racial profiling, etc.).

White Supremacy - is an historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations, and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent, for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power, and privilege.