Selected Ideas for Creating Safer Spaces

By Politics + Care

excerpted from Safer Spaces pamphlet

SAFE(R) SPACES are created to make spaces accessible to everyone in various ways–this includes creating spaces where we can have emotionally charged conversations. We start with a general understanding that it’s okay to feel and express emotions. Another objective is to facilitate building of empathy and mutual understanding among participants. These spaces are created by laying down a set of basic guidelines that can increase our levels of self-awareness, as well as comfort and ease with the people with whom we are sharing intimate thoughts and issues, and sometimes matters in which we strongly believe. The term ‘safer’ is used to indicate that we cannot guarantee an absolutely safe space; the comparative term suggests that a space can become more safe if we collectively try to adhere to these basic (and other relevant) guidelines.

  1. Respect. First and foremost, a simple reminder that, in all cases, respect for self and others is essential and paramount to a discussion. Respect people for who they are and where they are at. Respect people’s beliefs, opinions, viewpoints, and experiences; we all took different roads to get here. Use non-violent communication to express your own views. Respect people’s identity, background, names, and pronouns; do not assume anyone’s gender identity. Also, respect people’s economic status. We commit to not reproducing systemic oppressions, such as racism (in all its forms, including horizontal racism), sexism, patriarchy, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and so on.
  2. Critique Ideas, not People. Don’t make things personal. Also, make sure you recognize your positionality, even as you critique ideas. This guideline creates a space where people feel comfortable contributing without feeling like they themselves will be attacked for their views.
  3. Avoid Judgment. Diverse groups have lots to offer, including different opinions. When group members share their likes and dislikes, respect their personal opinions and preferences. Adopt a non-judgemental approach.
  4. (Active) Listening. Try to hear people out, recognize their emotions and understand their perspectives, rather than being defensive and protecting dominant narratives.
  5. Take Perspective and Empathize. Recognize that people’s perspective is their truth. Respect it and refrain from judging (also see Respect and Avoid Judgement points above).
  6. Recognize your Privilege and Positionality. Be aware of your prejudices and privileges. If you’re coming from a privileged background (socio-economic, cultural, immigration status, and so on), recognize it along with your position, social standing and social capital, and consider how they may affect your way of thinking and being.
  7. Confidentiality. People share matters that are personal and delicate, so it’s important to commit to maintaining confidentiality. Consider everything that’s said to be private, unless specified otherwise. What’s said in the room remains in the room is a good adage to remember. If you would like to share someone’s story or comment, please ask them first. Exercise discretion outside of the space.
  8. Be Self-aware: Take Space, Make Space/Step up, Step back. Be aware of how much space you are taking/how much you are speaking. If you feel you are speaking a lot, you should step back and let others take that space; if someone hasn’t taken that space/hasn’t expressed much, they might consider stepping up to contribute.
  9. “I” and “my” Experience. Everyone should speak from his/her/hir own experiences, and avoid “we” statements, either to represent people present in the group, or folks who are not among us. In short, don’t speak for others.
  10. Avoid Making Generalizations. Don’t make blanket statements about any group of people. (In addition to members of a particular community, this also includes political parties, religious groups, socio-economic classes, age ranges, etc.) If you’re not sure that something you want to say is factually correct, phrase it as a question.
  11. Intention vs. Impact. Good intentions are not enough. We all need to be responsible for our own speech and actions. Be aware that our actions have an effect on others, despite good intentions. The impact of what’s said/done could be very different or even starkly opposite to the intention. It is important to understand and listen to impacted folks and change our behaviour. Do not judge the reaction of those who are impacted; our frames of reference can be very different, based on our experiences, privilege, and positionality. Thus, do not minimize the magnitude of the impact. Apologize as needed.