CSJ 101: Our Working Assumptions for Creating Brave Spaces

A post written by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers

A little snow won’t get in the way of Critical Social Justice 2015!

Yesterday was the kick-off to CSJ2015 with CSJ 101: Introduction to Brave Spaces. It was a rich conversation in which everyone was really invested and we went right through our allotted time in Commons 329. We thank our invited participants and moderator for helping us start the conversation! Prior to the start of CSJ week, we also provided ways for the UMBC community to begin engaging in the idea of creating brave spaces. You can find more on brave spaces and creating brave spaces throughout our blog like this awesome video created by the CSJ Student Alliance, a few blog posts written by Women’s Center staff members (check out Daniel and Ty’s posts), the Brave Space Guidelines of the Women’s Center, and of course, the chapter that started in all, From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. These jumping off points, in addition to the diverse perspectives and experiences of our invited panelists and community members in the room took us on a journey as we uncovered the depth and breadth of brave spaces.

Arao and Clemens spend time in their chapter exploring what brave space can be. It’s grounded in the concept of safe space but recognizes that the idea of safety can be limiting when in engaging in difficult dialogues and social justice work. They find value and necessity in taking risk and engaging in controversy to facilitate authentic learning experiences about social justice. When this kind of authenticity is nourished a brave space has been created. It’s a great read and I’d highly recommend it to student leaders, staff, and faculty committed to integrating social justice into their work and communities. But what else is brave space? How is it created? How is it maintained? Is brave space the same for everyone or can it look different from person to person? These are some of the questions we explored in CSJ 101. Knowing that not everyone could attend yesterday’s event, I’m capturing some of the highlights here as a way to root the rest of the week in a better understanding of UMBC’s understanding and practice of brave space.  Continue reading

Social Justice Can Be Messy!

A reflection from Women’s Center Director, Jess Myers
This post was originally shared on the Women’s Center at UMBC’s wordpress blog

Last week, the Women’s Center staff completed spring training. As with all of our training days, we took the opportunity to explore our social identities in the spirit of self-exploration, team building, and a commitment to critical social justice. It’s something I look forward to each training knowing I always learn more about my fellow team members and myself.

This semester we did the Power of Assumptions activity which I’ve facilitated several times before at UMBC. It can be a great low-risk activity to get students considering their personal identities and those of others for the first time. It prompts students to consider how their identities have impacted their life experiences while also calling them to face assumptions and stereotypes they might have of others. With a student staff well versed in social justice 101, though, I wanted to take this activity to a new level, and conveniently the finding of bags full of yarn as we’ve been cleaning out the Women’s Center put me in the creative mood to do just that. Now, students would be asked to take a ball of yarn with them and leave a marker on each identity they visited throughout the exercise. As we were promoted with statements such as “This identity brings me the most joy,” This part of my identity is the most invisible,” “This part of my identity I have to defend the most,” and so forth, we moved around the Women’s Center leaving behind a paths of yarn that quickly took the shape of interesting tangled webs.

Our intersecting identities creating a web in the Women’s Center lounge

Our intersecting identities creating a web in the Women’s Center lounge

As I moved about the room, I quickly realized what a challenge it was to get to my next location as I walked over or under the yarn of my staff members. Suddenly, the yarn wasn’t just yarn but also the lived experiences and lives of the five others sharing the space with me. Continue reading