August 3, 2015
This chapter from The Art of Effective Facilitation (Stylus Publishing, 2013) by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens provides an interesting challenge to the concept of “safe space.”
“We often describe [some] environments as safe spaces, terminology we hope will be reassuring to participants who feel anxious about sharing their thoughts and feelings regarding … sensitive and controversial issues. But to what extent can we promise the kind of safety our students might expect from us? We have found with increasing regularity that participants invoke in protest the common ground rules associated with the idea of safe space when the dialogue moves from polite to provocative. When we queried students about their rationales, their responses varied, yet shared a common theme: a conflation of safety with comfort. We began to wonder what accounts for this conflation. It may arise in part from the defensive tendency to discount, deflect, or retreat from a challenge. Upon further reflection, another possibility arose. Were we adequately and honestly preparing students to be challenged in this way? Were we in fact hindering our own efforts by relying on the traditional language of safe space?”
It’s a long read, but one that will make you reconsider some of your assumptions about dialog about controversial topics.
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