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Privilege, Oppression, Diversity and Social Justice

P. O. D. S.

What is Privilege, Oppression, Diversity and Social Justice?

This acronym of P.O.D.S. and the concepts of privilege, oppression, diversity and social justice, provide us with a framework for keeping justice at the center of our work. P.O.D.S. helps us in developing a vision for justice and it recognizes and reduces mechanisms that support oppression and injustice. A focus on P.O.D.S. can also help us identify theories and policies that promote social justice and eliminate injustice.


Types of advantages or unearned access that are granted based on how we are identified in terms of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, sexuality and ability status. Privileged groups often hold characteristics that are considered by dominant culture to be more socially acceptable or most valued, they tend to be seen as the norm. Considering privilege — where it exists and where it doesn't — helps us understand the context in which people are engaging with the world.


Can be thought of as the social act of placing severe restrictions on an individual, a group or an institution. Oppression occurs at all levels and is reinforced by social norms, institutional biases, interpersonal relationships and personal beliefs. Political theorist Iris Young created a model called The Five Faces of Oppression, which includes violence, exploitation, marginalism, powerlessness and cultural imperialism.


Encompasses the wide range of identities including (but certainly not limited to) race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, ability, language, culture, national origin, religion, age and political perspective. Diversity speaks to how we interact with different mixes of people and identities different from our own. We know that diverse groups of people make more well-informed decisions by including different points of view and creating more opportunities for more people. We also know those benefits don't occur if people feel they need to suppress some area of their identity. Diversity is about valuing the range of experiences and perspectives.

A key concept in understanding diversity is intersectionality, which describes how different identities such as race, class, gender and other individual characteristics overlap and interact with one another. Intersectionality demonstrates the complexity within our social systems and how individuals can face multiple intersections of oppression and discrimination.

Social Justice

The belief that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights, opportunity, and access. Social justice requires equity, fairness, and respect for diversity, as well as the eradication of social oppression. Achieving social justice can be seen as the core of social work practice, and informs all we do.

How is P.O.D.S. applied at the School of Social Work?

For more than 20 years, the exploration of these concepts has been a foundation of a University of Michigan School of Social Work education. In the revised 2020 curriculum, P.O.D.S. is integrated into every course, helping us strengthen our focus on justice and critical consciousness.

P.O.D.S is at the crux of all we do. It provides the Michigan Social Work community with a shared language and a platform to discuss these issues as a community. It provides a metric for students to use in their own practice. By centering justice at the core of our work, we allow justice to become the lens through which all our goals are viewed.

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