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Yes, I have previously participated in a safe space discussion. At my high school, a group of student leaders would organize an event called “Town Hall,” where the entire upper school gathered to discuss various topics ranging from politics to conspiracy theories once a rotation. Upon introduction of the discussion topic, people would come up to the mike one by one to share their opinions regarding the topic. I noticed that, despite several exceptions, the majority of students who came up to vocalize their opinions mostly had liberal POVs to share regarding political topics. Rarely had I heard individuals share opinions that would be deemed as conservative, and the reason soon became clear. I realized that those conservative POVs often got shut down or invalidated by someone who came up to speak next or sometime afterwards. I would converse with several people post-discussion, finding out that some students felt uncomfortable with publicly sharing their views, afraid of being criticized for expressing unpopular opinions. As @Amitra Hoq stated in her post above, “Instead of talking through differences, which might happen in discussions outside of safe spaces, people are reinforcing their common struggles [through safe space discussions],” I agree that it can be hard for people to have an open discussion in a safe space setting, making it difficult for individuals to be receptive or engage with voices that challenge popular opinion of the group.
My answer to the first question is that yes, I have participated in a discussion in a safe space.
In my high school, we have a week called Social Justice Week which is a week of seminars about a variety of topics. For example, one day would be about sex trafficking and another day would be about diversity and inclusion. During this week, I had to organize a seminar about environmental justice and lead a group discussion afterward. Though it was hard being comfortable about being uncomfortable, I tried to open up to people first about myself and made jokes to lighten the mood a bit. The discussions did not go smoothly at first but soon our discussions became interesting. I got to learn much more because we all had different kinds or amounts of background knowledge. For instance, day students could bring up local examples and international students could mention examples of their region.
Another experience of mine was during a religious retreat. There were a lot of personal questions to answer and we were assured of the confidentiality. Yes, it is definitely difficult to open up to people that you probably have not known for so long, but we all opened up and the whole retreat was an unforgettable memory for me even though I am not religious.
Experiencing these situations, I can surely say that a safe space discussion is different from other discussions. I learn so much about the individuals attending the discussions and the different perspectives through safe space discussions. It is different from merely knowing what their opinion is about a certain topic or question. Therefore, I believe that it is important to set a safe space for discussion in order to encourage people to be attentive and be less concerned about the judgments.
Yes, I have participated in a safe space discussion, though in a classroom setting. The aim was really to get us to talk more, since our class was not the most eager to participate in discussion, so already it was different to discussions elsewhere as it felt more artificial than natural. However, I found that specifying and defining the discussion as a safe space also emphasized the divisions between people in the classroom, making free discussion harder than ever. If anything, it felt as if one was walking on eggshells when deciding what to say or rather, what not to say, (though this feeling could also be attributed to the fact that none of us knew each other enough to trust one another). As Helena points out above, you end up filtering out more and more of what you truly believe, which rather defeats the purpose of having a safe space.
So in my personal experience, yes I have participated in a safe space discussion. Was it different than a discussion anywhere else, I can confirm that this is indeed true. However there are two different questions that should be asked about safe spaces. 1. Are they good and 2. Are they effective.
My answer to question number 1 is that yes, safe spaces are good. I believe that safe spaces provide the comfort that many people seek after being oppressed due to their identity. This is especially true in my case, after years of constant harassment due to my identities, participating in a safe space discussion was the validation I was seeking. It felt great to be able to talk to people who had shared common struggles with me, and I actually received advice on how to navigate everyday life. Then I participated in another discussion. And then another. And then I reached the point where I had exhausted the resources of safe space discussions.
This brings me to my other question, are safe space discussions effect? My answer to this is yes and no. It feels nice that everyone agrees with you and shares the same thirst for vindication, but there are many things that can go wrong with this. Instead of talking through differences, which might happen in discussions outside of safe spaces, people are reinforcing their common struggles. This doesn't create room for growth mindset, rather creates a need to shut down any other outside opinion. I have seen this within myself, where I become rigid to accept a new outlook on a scenario, and error which I am spending time correcting myself. What I want to focus on, the connection between cancel culture and safe spaces.
Cancel culture is a recent phenomena where if a celebrity or prominent social figure has been found doing something(or did something in the past) that is highly problematic, masses of people will "cancel," or attempt to trend the misdeed and thus the public figure looses the support of myriad of people. There are as many pros as cons to this scenario. One pro is that the person is held accountable for whatever they have done, however they are not given the platform to apologize or have some attempt of redemption. One misconduct, and your career might as well be over.
I think safe spaces perpetuates this mindset, and in the end, I do not think they are productive. Safe spaces are all about creating an atmosphere where you be yourself, and share your opinions, but the in group out group bias only becomes stronger.
This is a great question! Here are my thoughts on this:
Based on my personal experiences, yes -- and I'm not sure if that's a good thing. I find that even in safe spaces, the people involved in the discussions hold similar views and beliefs making it a lot easier to freely express thoughts. Similarly, discussion elsewhere is often in settings involving friends and family, which promotes a sense of security during the sharing of thoughts and opinions.
From my past experiences engaging in discussions pertaining to debated topics and perhaps controversial ideas, it became clearer to me that the space I was in wasn't as safe as I had previously thought. The line between conversing in a safe space and conversing in any other environment came to a blur when I recognized that I was holding back. The homogenous nature of opinions and ideas in the previously mentioned settings had made it easier for me to unconsciously understand what borders "right" and "wrong" speech. What came out of my mouth was only half of what I had in mind. Even in safe spaces, when it became apparent what majority beliefs were, it was hard to speak directly from the heart without filtering out what may have seemed like an unpopular opinion.
So...I guess this brings me to several questions: How can we make safe spaces truly safe? What other factors may influence the disruption of safe spaces and alternatively, how can we use this knowledge to implement changes?
This post is purely based on my experiences and I'm sure others have completely different stories. I do appreciate what safe spaces aim to achieve and believe that nowadays, it is becoming increasingly important as people are easily being "cancelled" for expressing what's on their mind. Safe spaces promote a sense of inclusivity and amicable discussion that is crucial in learning new perspectives which allows us to grow as we learn from varying ideas.