Getting “Real” about Transformation: The Role of Brave Spaces in Creating Disorientation and Transformation
If the ground rules for our interactions with one another become so limiting that authenticity is stifled, will not the disorientation required for transformation also be stifled? Rather than tapping the transformative capacities of SLCE experiences, are we sheltering our students, our community partners, and ourselves from the “real” dynamics that could help us become more open to critical conversation and more empowered to relate with one another authentically?
Societal calls for warnings of potentially distressing content in what we are about to read or view are echoed in the academy in various ways…. Although sometimes driven by legitimate concerns, faculty, staff, and institutional practices too often emerge from paternalistic desires for control over students and communities who are assumed to need protection. The result is that uncomfortable, disquieting experiences remain elusive, hindering deep-dives into disorienting – and thus potentially transformative – opportunities for students, communities, and ourselves….
In the wake of national incidents of violence and community distrust – from Ferguson to Baltimore to Charleston1 – it is more essential than ever to create what Arao and Clemens (2013) call “brave spaces.” Brave spaces are qualitatively distinct from “safe spaces.” With safe spaces, ground rules … are established to … minimize conflict to approximate an ideal of safety. In contrast, brave spaces are environments that invite interactions in which participants … break through polite, surface-level discussions…. [because they] feel able to be honest, candid, self-disclosing, and generally genuine with one another….
If we explicitly design SLCE as a brave space, learners are even more likely to experience disorientation as they wrestle with tensions related to agency, social responsibility, and worldview; coupled with the necessary processing via critical reflection in a brave space, such experience can lead to transformative learning ….. Multi-stakeholder transformative SLCE design can promote disorientation through authentic dialogue and critical reflection among all participants to generate transformative change in individuals, communities, and systems. …
I offer two examples of programming … intentionally designed as a brave space: confronting participants with disorientation, incorporating critical dialogue, nurturing authentic interactions, inviting individuals to try on new understandings and identities, and refusing to shy away from experiences or critical reflections that are challenging, uncomfortable, and transformative.
Arao, B., & Clemens, K. (2013). From safe spaces to brave spaces: A new way to frame dialogue around diversity and social justice. In L. Landreman (Ed.), The art of effective facilitation: Reflections from social justice educators (pp. 135-150). Sterling, VA: Stylus.
SARAH STANLICK is the founding director of Lehigh University’s Center for Community Engagement and a professor of practice in Sociology and Anthropology. She previously taught at Centenary College of New Jersey and was a researcher at Harvard’s Kennedy School, assisting the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power. She has published in journals such as The Social Studies and the Journal of Global Citizenship and Equity Education. Her current interests include inquiry-based teaching and learning, global citizenship, transformative learning, and cultivating learner agency.
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