Lynn Meade, instructor of communications, gave a presentation at the Sociology and Criminology Teaching Excellence series titled, “Creating Safe Spaces for Dissenting Views.” In this presentation, Meade focused on the difference between creating “safe spaces” and “brave spaces.” Dr. Meade noted that in her classes, as with many of us, she often discusses controversial topics, […]
Lynn Meade, instructor of communications, gave a presentation at the Sociology and Criminology Teaching Excellence series titled, “Creating Safe Spaces for Dissenting Views.” In this presentation, Meade focused on the difference between creating “safe spaces” and “brave spaces.”
Dr. Meade noted that in her classes, as with many of us, she often discusses controversial topics, such as flag burning, religion, race, sexuality, picketing at funerals, abortion, and microaggressions, among others. Because of these often sensitive and controversial topics, it is important to create a space where students can learn to discuss, debate, and communicate with each other without feeling judged or attacked. However, it is also important for students to provide justification and reasons for their views. These spaces, while often called “safe spaces,” are often more appropriately called “brave spaces.” Brave spaces are those places where students can discuss “controversy with civility” and “talk about ideas and not people.”
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These brave spaces allow instructors to facilitate conversations and teach students how to work through uncomfortable topics; however, this also requires giving up some control. By allowing students to delve into these topics, we as instructors, are allowing them to develop their critical thinking skills and recognize the importance of risk in learning. Meade pointed out that the same reasons that students often avoid these controversial topics are similar to the reasons why faculty avoid teaching them! Students are uncomfortable with conflict, they worry how their peers will perceive them, they believe their grades will be affected if they disagree with the instructor, and often students do not know how to navigate these topics.
Several faculty members presented their ideas for how to navigate brave spaces in the classroom and provided great tips for teaching.
- Shauna Morimoto suggested an activity for evaluating arguments where students rate whether arguments for or against a view were “facts,” “values,” or “rhetoric.”
- When Meade discussed guidelines for student civility, she said she has an “I expect” section in her syllabus inspired by Ro DiBrezzo, which outlines expectations for students. In response to Meade’s suggestion, Anna Zajicek suggested that we should also include a “You can expect” section which outlines what students can expect from us.
- When highlighting rigorous evidence based argumentation, Mindy Bradley Engen suggested a method for getting students to think about evidence. We can have students imagine that they are wrong about the topic then ask them what it would take for them to change their mind? What evidence would be sufficient? This allows students to start with the idea that we all want to be properly informed and rely on facts and evidence.
- Other tips included: having students write for a few minutes before they speak so they can gather their thoughts, in some cases fostering discussion may require you to allow students to step back and not participate, mix up groups so that there are new ideas shared, tell students that you don’t have all the answers to build up their confidence in sharing, and give roles to individuals in groups so that everyone participates in some way.
This content was developed from a presentation by Lynne Meade at the Sociology and Criminology Teaching Excellence Series.
The presentation can be downloaded and viewed as a PDF: Safe Spaces and Brave Spaces