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Climate Action Must Be Intersectional
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Ask SGO: What are “safe spaces” and how do we create them?


So the phrase safe space, we probably have all heard it. I can say for me, safe space was used a lot in academia and on campuses a lot of times when we talk about issues related to identity, diversity, equity and inclusion, one of the first guidelines before a meeting would start or before dialogue would start was, you know, let’s create a safe space. And I think it’s important, first, for us to unpack sort of, where this terminology comes from and how we might be using it differently than what it was intended to be used as.

So according to what I’ve learned over time is that the phrase “safe space” was a lot of times used within women’s movements, meaning a lot of people who identified as a woman, or as women, said, how do we create safe spaces? Meaning how do we create spaces where we can speak our truths, where we feel like we’re not being shut down, and really even just like physical safety. So a lot of times safe space alluded to being in a space where you didn’t feel like you would be physically hurt or harassed, especially because that was a common thing that happened to you if you were part of an identity group that has been historically and presently marginalized.

What we now see is that the phrase safe space is being used to also talk about not being uncomfortable, and it’s really important to recognize that when we’re having difficult conversations, especially those conversations that are emotionally charged in the workplace, we can’t necessarily guarantee safe space in that regard. So, how I might react to a certain topic or even me sharing my personal experiences. No one can really hold my emotions or guarantee that I will feel okay in terms of how I’m interpreting a certain situation. What can be guaranteed is safe spaces is that no one is harassed because of their identities. No one feels like they don’t belong so whether they’re consciously or unconsciously being picked on or whether there’s some biases that are showing up, that’s really what that term is alluding to.

So what I like to say is how do we create brave spaces, meaning that if we’re having conversations that are emotionally charged or that are connected to our identities, how do we create that space to say, Okay, this is going to be hard, and this is going to be uncomfortable, but we’re not going to, you know, allow any hate speech or any type of language that will intentionally, negatively impact someone but we will make sure that we can create other guidelines to say you just said this and this is how it felt. And how do we create that dialogue in that brave space that we have? 

Hopefully that was helpful and I’d love to hear more about how you all are defining safe space or brave space or perhaps any other terminology or phrases that you’re using while having some of these difficult conversations in the workplace.

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