Description and mission

StudentsThe Illumination Project’s mission is to create an inclusive, socially just academic and general community through student leadership development and social change theater. The main purpose of the Illumination Project is to create a campus climate that is inclusive and promotes equal access to education. The Illumination Project’s interactive community performances are designed so that large factions of the campus participate in problem-solving around issues that traditionally have made education more difficult for students of color, women students, poor/working-class students, immigrant, and sexual minority students.

In a realistic, yet safe atmosphere, actors and audience members have the opportunity to rehearse situations in order to build their communication skills and understand possible alternative behaviors. The Illumination Project also enables audience members to take on different characters in order to build empathy with the experience of others – a key element in living respectfully within a pluralistic society.

Illumination Project curriculum

The Illumination Project curriculum covers current research and theory on institutional oppression. The curriculum addresses the effects of oppression on individuals and society and the best practices to challenge oppressive behavior. The curriculum draws on multiple traditions – crafting links between feminist, critical, multicultural, queer, postcolonial, and other movements toward social justice.

StudentsIssues addressed include community building, consciousness-raising (around issues of race, class, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, and ability), skill building, and taking action. Anti-oppression work is deep and complex. All activities are contextualized and are only used as the group is ready, working from lower risk to higher risk so that learning may take place in a safe and conducive environment.

Concurrently, students learn social justice theater and popular education techniques. Much of the work the Illumination Project does is based on “Theater of the Oppressed”, a form of social justice theater developed by Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater activist. In “Theater of the Oppressed” plays are performed once without interruption and then again, allowing audience members to enter the scene, take on a character and positively alter the outcome of the scene.

The Illumination Project is civic engagement

The Illumination Project’s strong focus on developing students’ civic capacities, their sense of social responsibility, and their commitment to public action makes it Portland Community College’s premier civic engagement project. According to Michael Delli Carpini, Director, Public Policy, The Pew Charitable Trusts, “Civic engagement is individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.” Learn more about civic engagement.


  • To encourage critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, and active learning opportunities which empower students as leaders during and beyond their college tenure.
  • To foster a deeper understanding of oppression in all its forms.
  • To increase awareness of the lived experiences of oppressed peoples.
  • To facilitate students developing skills in problem-solving, communication, and assertiveness.
  • To strengthen the capacities of students to work for social justice.
  • To enable all workshop participants to become more effective grassroots anti-oppression activists through a collective learning process.
  • To support and advocate for people experiencing oppression.

Each year the Illumination Project…


  • Writes six distinct plays
  • Produces at least 25 performances
  • Reaches over 1200 audience members

Why the Illumination Project?

  • Because oppression exists.
  • Because everyone has the right to live, study and work in an environment free of demeaning comments and actions based on racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, or ageism.
  • Because oppression is an attack on our individual and collective humanity.
  • Because power and privilege can play out in destructive ways. We must challenge supremacist practices that marginalize, exclude, or de-humanize others. Privilege, like power, can be used for positive purposes but should be used with awareness and care.
  • Because dialogue and discussion are necessary and we need to learn how to listen non-defensively and communicate respectfully if we are going to have effective anti-oppression practices.

Who sponsors the Illumination Project?

The Illumination Project is a program of the Sylvania Women’s Resource Center and finds additional support from the  Multicultural Center, Queer Resource Center, sociology, and theater departments.

What instructors are saying

"I have taken most of my classes to the Illumination Project plays and they are a tremendous learning tool. The plays open up dialogue and get students thinking about oppression in their lives and environment.

"The interactive nature of the performances helps them to see that there are a variety of possible strategies to deal with 'isms' in day-to-day interactions and a variety of opportunities within each interaction. The Project is a tremendous service to the college and to students. One piece of feedback I think captured what students learned happened in class this week. A student raised her hand and said, 'Over the weekend I had a situation in my apartment complex. I stepped forward and stopped the conflict. That presentation we went to really encouraged me not to stand silent.'

"I have also had students who are part of the Illumination Project. Invariably, they have learned a tremendous amount which is demonstrable in their classroom participation and in their eagerness as learners." S. Rowan Wolf, Ph.D., PCC Sociology Instructor