Magazine Feature

Toolkit for "Anatomy of an Ally"

This toolkit for “Anatomy of an Ally” addresses the complex and challenging work of being an ally and presents a framework for helping social justice educators think about their own ally identity development. 


Speaker and educator Keith E. Edwards, Ph.D, developed a conceptual model of ally identity development. Key to this model is thinking critically about our motivations. Why do we speak up? What makes us want to be an ally? Edwards distinguishes among three ally types:

The Aspiring Ally for Self-Interest is primarily motivated to protect those one cares about from being hurt. This person seeks to be an ally to an individual with whom one has a personal connection rather than to a group or an issue, and sees oneself as a protector who intervenes on the behalf of those who experience oppression, and often without consulting them.

The Aspiring Ally for Altruism seeks to empower members of the oppressed group, which maintains credit and some control in the person doing the empowering, rather than encouraging and supporting members of the oppressed group to empower themselves.

An individual acting as an Ally for Social Justice works with those who experience oppression in collaboration and partnership to end the system of oppression. By working toward social justice, the allies are seeking not only to free the oppressed but also to be liberated and reconnected to their own full humanity and authenticity.

Note: These descriptions were excerpted and adapted from “Aspiring Social Justice Ally Identity Development: A Conceptual Model,” written by Keith E. Edwards and published in NASPA Journal in 2006 (volume 43, number 4). Reprinted here with permission.


Essential Questions

  1. What motivates me to be an ally?
  2. How can I aspire to be an ally for social justice?


Step One

On your own or with a small group of trusted colleagues, think of a situation you are currently dealing with in your work as an educator where you strive to be an ally. Lay out the details: Who is involved? What has happened? What are your concerns? 


Step Two

Discuss or reflect on that situation at length, unpacking the dynamics and details using these 13 questions:

  1. What is motivating my work as an ally?
  2. Who or what do I aspire to be an ally to?
  3. How have I related to the targeted group in my work as an ally?
  4. Who do I view as the victims of oppression?
  5. What or who do I view as the problem?
  6. What view of justice am I bringing to my work as an ally?
  7. What moral or spiritual principles am I bringing to my work as an ally?
  8. What power dynamics am I bringing to my work as an ally?
  9. What are my sources of ongoing motivation in my work as an ally?
  10. How do I deal with my mistakes in my work as an ally?
  11. How are surrounding structures and systems being impacted by my work as an ally?
  12. What is the focus of my work as an ally?
  13. How do I think about privilege in my work as an ally?


Step Three

Learn more about Edwards’ model for aspiring social justice ally identity development in this journal article, this handout and these presentation slides


Step Four

Revisit the situation you began with.

  1. To what extent might you be acting from a place of self-interest or altruism?
  2. How might you change your actions and attitudes to evolve toward a social justice ally?
  3. What are three different ways you can be an ally in the same situation?
Add to an Existing Learning Plan
    Illustration of person holding and looking at laptop.

    New Virtual Workshops Are Available Now!

    Registrations are now open for our 90-minute virtual open enrollment workshops. Explore the schedule, and register today—the first workshop begins October 16th and space is limited!

    Sign Up!