Learning Spaces/Safe Spaces

In the past I’ve written about the difficulty of constructing safe(r) spaces in the context of an organization, discussion group, or other communal setting. I’m currently taking part in a community class on workshop design + facilitation where we’ve talked about the difficulties and tribulations of crafting ‘community agreements’ for the duration of a workshop or evan course.

The concerns, at least in the group of people I’ve talked with, differ for a community space or discussion, a place of attempted refugee, from that of a learning space where the goal is inpart or facilitate new understandings and knowledges from the group people. The view is that people have to be pushed, sometimes and some people, to parse new information such as anti-oppressive principles or thought.

In thinking about the different concerns fellow students had for a workshop space agreement I began to wonder how to distinguish the different goals of a community space. My initial distinction, as in the title, was as learning space and safe space. These words reveal my own tension with the idea that learning spaces can’t be safer spaces, or at least, that safer learning spaces are distinct from safer spaces of refugee  Of course, who a refugee is for and who is taking shelter vary greatly and can be lost at any moment. However in these spaces of shelter is there not also learning, even if of a less goal oriented kind? Thus, I know I need to seek different words for these nuances. Although must harsh or challenging spaces be encouraged in order for everyone in the space to learn, even at the cost of hurting others? Is this part of learning how to have accountable community?

Obviously (to me) part of whether learning/challenging spaces can be safer, or at least moving towards justice and accountability, has to do with the facilitation of the space and the obligations, honesty, and trust within the space.

Mine and others position reflect the tension in prioritizing safety as our descriptive word and how we can barely resist positioning in opposition to learning, challenge, or growth. Our limited vocabulary and framework trap us from imagining the dangers in places we think our safe four us (and others) and the way we have come to fundamentally view learning as scary and untethered. School has damaged us. I wonder when we might become to fundamentally ask what it means when we say right to safety but not comfort, and how we will learn to tell the difference whether marginalized or privileged.

Here the author challenges notions of safety as important to learning, particularly ‘higher education’, after defining safety as 1) physical safety of the space 2)temporal safety, or a discrete metaphorical time 3)comfort and familiarity with the first two factors, and 4) facilitation of risk taking. The author argues expectations of “safety, comfort, non-confrontation, and acceptance” go against the promotion of critical thinking, leading to “intellectual relavatism”. They ultimately conclude by suggesting safety should be reframed as respect and civility (although notions of what respect and especially civility look like are shaped by notions of class and other systems of power).

The point they arrive I think reaffirms the notion that we are often trying to do more than make a space safe or non-confrontational: we are seeking to deeply change the notions of community and community interaction to value others differently.

At here they suggest the notion of dangerous spaces where dominant ways of relating and communicating are challenged rather than the false safety blanket of safer spaces. When combing tumblr about safer spaces, so many incidents and frustrations with social justice notions of safe spaces leaving violence and pain running unchecked come up, highlighting the untenability of truly feeling safe in a space, rater than in a “moment’ as they observe.

This post on concrete ways to address violence and triggers alongside oppressive actions takes a different angle that is more about providing tools to address events instead of stressing the do nots.  All of these links take different approaches to expressing tensions with idealized notions of safety, which, really, shows that we cannot assume what anyone else means by a safe space or community agreement. We need to be concrete with the purpose of a gathering, event, or other structure alongside with the ways tensions and processes will be dealt with within.


INCITE’s the Revolution Starts at Home

fabulous anthology addressing the oppressive and abusive relationships that occur among two people, groups, and communities and the all the pitfalls and struggles of available methods.


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