Do We Need Safe or Brave Spaces?

An often daunting aspect of navigating the world of higher education and social justice is attempting to keep up with the ever-changing terminology. We’re committed to the work of being constant learners (and unlearners) - recognizing social justice is a process and goal. But as we work to maintain pace with changing structures and semantics, we must remain both critical and thoughtful in our follow through.

In recent years, we’ve seen the intentional shift within student and academic affairs to advocate for creating brave spaces over safe spaces. There is an arguable difference, considering the implications of each term:

  • A safe space is ideally one that doesn’t incite judgment based on identity or experience - where the expression of both can exist and be affirmed without fear of repercussion and without the pressure to educate. While learning may occur in these spaces, the ultimate goal is to provide support.
  • A brave space encourages dialogue. Recognizing difference and holding each person accountable to do the work of sharing experiences and coming to new understandings - a feat that’s often hard, and typically uncomfortable.

We’d be remiss to simply hear the new term brave space and throw the old one out like a mistake we’d like to quickly forget. The reality is: they’re different spaces, providing different outcomes. And on alternative breaks, we should be balancing both.

Expecting people to only expose their identity and face what may be traumatic for the sake of their own progress (and more often, the progress of others) is unfair, and a poor practice. But on the flipside - for an authentic and impactful experience - there’s a level of discomfort and vulnerability that is necessary. Here, the facilitator plays an important role: to 1) preemptively consider the experience of all participants, and 2) understand how to create both safe and brave spaces to validate and challenge one another.

With that in mind, recall the last time you were in a space where you felt both supported and challenged - where you were both teaching and learning? What did it take to create that experience and how can you do it (or do it better) for others?