An Analysis of ‘From Safe Spaces to Brave Places’

An Analysis of Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens’ ‘From Safe Spaces to Brave Places: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice,’ 2013.

Creative Commons. Melany Rochester, 2019.

GUIDELINES, RULES, AND ALERTS are all means by which we work to achieve safety. The precautious practices that we have come to expect in public spaces, have become a standard of quality. “The practice of establishing ground rules or guidelines for conversations and behavior is foundational to diversity and social justice learning activities,” (p. 135). The global consensus, as of 2019, seems that there is a need to protect the most vulnerable from harm before danger ever even presents itself. However, progressive concepts such as ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’ have come under media fire in recent years as the pleas for safety have come to take precedence over various, typically controversial academic material that is integral to American college curriculums. This issue is complex, one that demands a level of finesse often overlooked in such arguments. It tends to be these controversial topics that college and high school students are tasked with addressing in countless essays. So, how does one construct an essay that captures the complications of a sensitive topic, like safe spaces, without ignoring the plight of those involved? Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens present an intriguing analysis of safe spaces and how these precautions affect college students academically and emotionally. In their essay, ‘From Safe Spaces to Brave Places: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice,’ the authors address the situation clearly with an effective hypothesis, maneuver through the key aspects with concise transitional phrasing. The essay is further progressed by the authors’ advice of how we change the conversation to be more inclusive. I believe that they achieve their goal of conveying a strong argument in favor of safe spaces. They argue that changing the terminology is the most effective approach to challenging the stigma against such controversial topics. I agree with this stance, but I think the authors may also be overenthusiastic with their findings.

The essay, ‘From Safe Spaces to Brave Places,’ is a literary chapter written by authors Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens in 2013 as part of the larger publication, ‘The Art of Effective Facilitation.’ This five-part essay seeks to discuss and dissect the practice of safe spaces while addressing the predatory behavior of counteragents that only perpetuate the stigma. Through effortful research, the authors introduce the audience to the effects that not having safe spaces presents to students and staff while also offering insight into what life is like when students and staff do have access to these places of comfort. They believe the target on the backs of survivors stem from the terminology used, not just from negative beliefs and actions taken by the uneducated or inexperienced. The most influential aspect of the essay is the discussion of an equally difficult subject, racism. This part of the conversation is a pivotal moment in the study that can sway even the most hard-headed reader. The essay, all together, is immensely influential, easy to read, and emotionally-charged. It can help shed light on how to address more sensitive topics, how to make schools more inclusive and welcoming. But, we should remain a bit wary. Are these new terms at risk of being contorted to meet the agenda of the very same people causing the great debacle of safe spaces and trigger warnings in the first place?

Creative Commons. Niu-niu, 2019.

While analyzing this essay, I was mindful of some criteria that would ultimately shift my opinion of whether this essay achieved its goal. First, I knew that I was looking for effective pacing through eloquent thoughtfulness as well as definitive transitional phrasing and well-rounded sentence structuring. Second, it is important that this essay has adequate evidence to back up their research and findings with proper quotations that advance their narrative. Lastly, I think it is crucial that these authors present their argument with a strong conclusion that reiterates their thesis and gives some resolve on the subject.

After reading Arao and Clemens’ essay, I must admit that I thought it was the most riveting piece of literature on the subject that I have read. The authors were astute in their dissection of safe spaces, taking an intimate look into what they are and how they affect campuses. Clemens and Arao stated that they saw “great value in many of the tenets of safe spaces as well as the common practice of setting expectations, often called ground rules, with the learning group regarding how we will engage with one another on these subjects,” (p. 139). They were keen to find some common ground between the reader and issues of social justice by comparing another equally-sensitive subject, which made the audience empathetic to the original issue of safe spaces. I thought their essay was well-structured with obvious transitional phrasing that allowed for a comprehensive read. Sentence structure was varied, and the authors built on ideas from other great minds, which gave their essay depth and persuaded the audience that there was some leverage to their thesis. And, lastly, they resolve the essay with an important message: we can change. Through their experiments, the results of which were shared in the essay, they uncovered a correlation between terminology and the reaction to the terms ‘safe spaces’ and ‘brave places’ within their workshop groups.

Arao and Clemens are adamant that those who want safe spaces are not to blame for the negative portrayal of these precautions. Instead, they spend some time discussing why it is often the aggressive mindset of the opposing argument that only perpetuates the stigma. “For agent group members, facing evidence of the existence of their unearned privilege, reflecting on how and to what degree they have colluded with or participated in oppressive acts, hearing the stories of pain and struggle from target group members, and fielding direct challenges to their world-view from their peers can elicit a range of negative emotions, such as fear, sorrow, and anger,” (p. 139). This is a major declaration that gives the essay an insightful perspective. We understand how these agent group members, or members of a group that has been historically advantaged, may react and think when placed in a public space that allows more relaxed discussions; this privilege can be abused by these people. It gives Arao and Clemens the upper hand in the argument because the audience is given a reason to believe in the necessity of safe spaces. The authors gain the reader’s empathy, an important aspect of any influential essay.

Next, Arao and Clemens’ examination of several studies that led them to attempt using new terminology presented the audience with an in-depth analysis of the research process; rather than use ‘safe space’ it would be further advised to use ‘brave place’ in programs. “By revising our framework to emphasize the need for courage rather than the illusion of safety, we better position ourselves to accomplish our learning goals and more accurately reflect the nature of genuine dialogue regarding these challenging and controversial topics,” (p. 141–142). Their narrative progresses because the authors present their own findings based on these other studies. To show the persuasive nature of using the term ‘brave spaces,’ the authors began using the term in classes. Once in a workshop, they advertised it as a ‘brave place’. They said it had a “positive impact,” (p. 142). What I thought was important for the believability of their findings was that Arao and Clemens admitted that changes to the experiment could be made to come to more conclusive results than what they found. As an interested party, one might take influence from this in their next essay. Admitting faults takes away the illusion that their argument is solid, which takes away a lot of suspicion from the reader. This essay’s an easy read because of the authors’ ability to inhibit trust with the audience through seemingly honest storytelling.

It was important for the authors to express the necessity for the victims of trauma seeking these brave places be allowed to have the greater say in ground rules and exercises expected in class discussions. It often only took a reminder of this initial ground rule discussion during their first workshop for them to reflect on their own behaviors and adjust their actions accordingly. This remark reminded participants that, “pointed challenges are not necessarily attacks, but the uncomfortable experience that may result can sometimes lead to a defensive reaction,” (p. 149). It was important for Arao and Clemens that the victims of these issues did not have the blame and frustration shifted on them. The closing pages address the need for people who experience anxiety, or other unsavory feelings, during sensitive discussions to take responsibility over their own environment, giving these people a way to cope with these topics at a pace that is more adjusted to meet their specific needs. Reminding the participants that self-reflection before reaction can often offer more insight into the discussion, they might gain the ability to maneuver potentially triggering content without suffering from the experience. This is important to readers and writers because it answers the question of what is being done to address the problem, how these changes have impacted participants.

There are countless victims who will try to better their lives by enrolling in school or undertaking a new job where they may be met with triggering subject matter or startling behaviors on another’s accord at some point, and they deserve a private location to decompress after a mentally-stressful experience. It is equally important that these places are not viewed negatively. The terms ‘trigger warning’ and ‘safe spaces’ have lost their intended meaning, to the extent that anyone using these terms is made a mockery of. In Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens’ essay, ‘From Safe Spaces to Brave Places: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice,’ we are introduced to the idea of alternating common names previously used to newer, more impactful terms. This revolutionary idea sheds light on the importance of terminology and the psychological effects it has on public appeal. They effortlessly dissected another sensitive subject, racism, and compared the issues without belittling either side. Although there is an immeasurable amount of joy one feels after reading this essay, we cannot shake the realization that their experiments do not consider the cruel nature of those who caused the initial aggression against safe spaces in the first place. Try as we might, we cannot always avoid the negativity of the world and the people residing in it. We also mustn’t forget to present an argument to show the importance of safe spaces in students’ lives, not just how we can change the stigma. I believe the way to end the stigma is to illustrate the benefits of safe spaces in a more concise manner that the common man who doesn’t hold similar beliefs might be able to better understand why safe spaces, trigger warnings, and boundaries are necessary in academic settings. Arao and Clemens presented an efficient argument that aims to shape beliefs and challenge dangerous stigmas while leaving the audience asking the question: what more can we do?

Creative Commons. Alexis Brown, 2019.

Works Cited:

Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. (2013). From Safe Spaces to Brave Places: A New Way to Frame Dialogue Around Diversity and Social Justice. The Art of Effective Facilitation, Chapter 8. Retrieved from https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/inclusive-teaching/wp-content/uploads/sites/355/2016/06/From-Safe-Spaces-to-Brave-Spaces.pdf

A 27-year-old writer and artist from the States, interested in political, social, and environmental issues.