I found the chapter “From Safe Places to Brave Spaces” by Arao and Clemens (2013) to be insightful and thought provoking. This chapter explores the idea that the relatively recent trend toward creating and promoting environments that are comfortable and open to all viewpoints falls short of the need to create environments that promote an openness to vulnerability, discomfort, and appropriate confrontation. While much of this resonates with me (and I see the authors’ points about the shortcomings of “safe spaces,” I also find elements of the “brave space” model to be potentially problematic as well.
One such problem is that not everyone will desire or be ready to participate in a brave space. The authors do address this issue and note that allowing participants to opt out of emotionally difficult conversations may simply allow certain harmful viewpoints to continue without being addressed as such. On the other hand, not everyone is ready to be brave, and I don’t believe that it is usually effective to attempt to force bravery on someone. Some are ready to step out of their comfort zones. Some may need to but are not yet (or maybe ever) willing to do so.
Others may be tired of being brave. In the example given of the group of resident assistants in the “One Step Forward, One Step Backward activity”, we see the resentment and pain that can come from being (or feeling) forced into a situation (yet another) that requires an unchosen confrontation with issues of privilege and discrimination. In this situation, could forced bravery even be considered as retraumatizing?
Despite some possible difficulties with the “brave space” model such as the one referenced above, I certainly do not believe that avoiding these situations and conversations is the answer. As I initially read I began to wonder whether some type of informed consent process might be a possible solution (or at least a help) to this. Would letting the participants know that they would be challenged in certain ways and encouraged to do their best to participate despite the likelihood of discomfort allow them to engage more fully without defensiveness, retraumatization, etc.? Sure enough, the authors address this very matter stating, “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” (Arao and Clemens, 2013). They go on to note that using the language of “brave space” can help to adjust expectations and serve as an indication that preparation for difficult conversations should begin.
At this point in time, my view is that there is value in brave spaces and value in safe spaces. Maybe there is a time and a place for each, or maybe they simply each have their benefits and shortcomings no matter what the context. Regardless, the consideration of how to create better environments in which these issues can be addressed is essential and adding the idea of “brave spaces” to our vocabulary is a step in the right direction.
Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From safe spaces to brave spaces. The art of effective facilitation: Reflections from social justice educators, 135-150.