For purposes of the application to our MSW Program, please refer to these definitions of oppression.

The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture defines oppression as “a combination of prejudice and institutional power that creates a system that regularly and severely discriminates against some groups and benefits other groups…A person of the non-dominant group can experience oppression in the form of limitations, disadvantages, or disapproval. They may even suffer abuse from individuals, institutions, or cultural practices.” 

They define systemic oppression as “historical and organized patterns of mistreatment.” Examples of systems of oppression are racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, ageism, and anti-Semitism. “Society's institutions, such as government, education, and culture, all contribute or reinforce the oppression of marginalized social groups while elevating dominant social groups.” 

The University of Michigan School of Social Work defines oppression as “the social act of placing severe restrictions on an individual, a group or an institution [which] occurs at all levels and is reinforced by social norms, institutional biases, interpersonal relationships and personal beliefs.” They also point to Iris Young’s model of The Five Faces of Oppression: violence, exploitation, marginalism, powerlessness and cultural imperialism.

Want to learn more? Check out this video from the University of Denver’s School of Social Work.