Jess Myers is Director of UMBC’s Women’s Center.
UMBC’s BreakingGround was integral in helping Critical Social Justice 2014 launch last year. Through the initiative’s commitment to bust boundaries, shape coalitions, and be agents of change, Critical Social Justice was able to offer a new way for campus to talk about social justice and provide outlets for community members to engage in difficult dialogues and build community. We appreciate the continued BreakingGround support as we move forward into year two of CSJ (February 16-20, 2015) with its theme of “Creating Brave Spaces.” During one of our recent planning meetings, I asked the planning team, comprised of Women’s Center and Mosaic Center staff members, to take a pause and discuss what we’re most excited about in preparing for this year’s CSJ, and how the theme of Creating Brave Spaces resonates with us personally and as UMBC community members.
How will CSJ 2015 look different from last year’s inaugural CSJ? What is your vision for the week?
Megan Tagle Adams (Women’s Center Coordinator): For last year’s inaugural CSJ, we were trying to give people an idea of the broad range of topics and programs that could be included under the umbrella of Critical Social Justice. This year, I think there’s less breadth and more focus on depth, as we’re being very intentional about making connections with the Creating Brave Spaces theme and the various events. The week will be full of programs that engage with some similar issues from vastly different perspectives, which I hope will challenge any assumptions about what social justice “looks like.” Ultimately, I envision the week as a platform for providing the UMBC community with many different opportunities to learn about and get involved with social justice in a way that speaks to their interests and experiences.
As you plan CSJ 2015, what are you most excited about?
Lisa Gray (Assistant Director of Student Life for Cultural and Spiritual Diversity): I’m excited that Student Life’s Mosaic staff is co-hosting and collaborating with the Women’s Center on CSJ for a second year! Last year, the Women’s Center staff generously brought us into Women’s Center’s vision of campus-wide social justice activism and education – inside and outside the classroom. After last year’s learning and growth, I can’t wait to see how all the goodwill, good work and positive energy will manifest in 2015. Honestly, it already has given the awesome ideas, work and bravery coming from the CSJ Student Advisory Group and so many other students this past fall. And with Franchesca Ramsey to challenge and inspire us – it’s going to be even more amazing!
Jess: I agree, Lisa! Last year we spent a great amount of time asking the community to trust us on this new initiative. Thankfully they did and this trust has resulted in some really positive and insightful energy around social justice at UMBC. More students use the Women’s Center and come to our group meetings and events because CSJ opened up a new kind of world for them or was that missing puzzle piece in their UMBC campus experience. I’m looking forward to the new people I’ll meet through CSJ, the challenging conversations we will have together, and the work we will all do to consider how UMBC can be a brave space.
How are brave spaces different from safe spaces?
Jasmine Malhotra, ’13, Biological Sciences (Student Life Graduate Assistant for Cultural Programs): Brave spaces is all about stepping out of your comfort zones and pushing yourself while safe spaces doesn’t always ask individuals to challenge themselves. In brave spaces you are learning about different kinds of groups and communities… as well as yourself. Brave spaces encourage us to consider our mistakes while safe spaces allow us to simply be ourselves in a space.
Lisa: Yes! Brave spaces pick up where safe spaces leave us. Safe spaces are important for many reasons, the biggest one being that attention is paid to the importance of being mindful of our words and behavior. What we say and do to others matters. Brave spaces take the what we say and do to the next level – ownership and personal responsibility for our shared experiences. They challenge us to say what we mean and mean what we say without promising that we will ever feel comfortable doing so. They raise our awareness, knowledge and skills in how we communicate and interact with ourselves and others by revealing how we create and experience our social realities as people with different social identities that carry both privilege and marginalization. Successful safe spaces create tolerance and sympathy. Successful brave spaces create acceptance and empathy. Critical social justice work begins and continues within brave spaces.
What does creating brave spaces mean to you?
Amelia Meman, ’15, Gender & Women’s Studies (Women’s Center Grants and Marketing Intern): Creating brave spaces on UMBC’s campus means working on creating intentional community dialogues that are founded on both reflexivity and inclusivity: reflexivity in how we acknowledge the privilege and bias that we each bring to conversations, as well as a willingness to challenge ourselves to be more aware of both how we are engaging with others, and the impacts of our engagements; inclusivity in being generous about the knowledge that some of us may not share on certain subjects, using language that welcomes others into conversation, and especially working to learn more about the people and community around you. (For more on brave spaces means to me and other students, check out this video created by the CSJ Student Advisory Board).
Zach Kosinski (Student Life Graduate Assistant for LGBTQ Programs): In working with LGBTQ students, the concept of brave spaces comes up a lot. Often times, when folks think of an LGBTQ space, a queer space, they rely on an assumption of safety and the utmost level of inclusion. After all, they think, if people can be “out” here, isn’t this a space for effective social justice learning? The unfortunate reality is that even within LGBTQ communities, issues of sexism, racism, ableism, transmisogyny, classism, and xenophobia can be just as prevalent as in the greater culture. What this means is that our queer spaces are not always safe spaces (and that’s a topic we’ll be exploring as part of this year’s CSJ events). I see the cultivation of brave spaces as essential component to creating more inclusive, effective communities, benefiting not just LGBTQ people, but allies and society at large.
In his CSJ keynote address last year, Jay Smooth showed one of his videos called “Why You Should Feed the Trolls If you Damn Well Need To“ to spark a dialogue related to using privileged identities in online spaces for social change. How do you see the theme of Creating Brave Spaces connecting with the use of social media?
Megan: When I think about the theme within the context of social media, it reminds me that the spaces we create are not just for our immediate benefit, but also for the potential impact on those we many never directly engage with at all. Using privilege to push back against trolls, for example, may seem like thankless and futile work but it can also be encouraging to think about how one comment out of a sea of hundreds could potentially be a source of strength and solidarity for someone somewhere hoping to forge a brave space of their own.
Jess: I love the idea of online brave spaces as counter-spaces. Over the past year, I’ve been researching the strategies used by student activists involved in the movement to address sexual violence prevention and response on college campuses. So many of these activists are using social media as a tool for their activism. They are literally carving out brave spaces via social media and on their campuses for survivors to come forward, to hold their schools accountable, and to encourage their peers to address rape culture. CSJ’s 2015 theme of Creating Brave Spaces resonates with me in so many ways and I especially find power in creating brave spaces online as a space for telling counter-narratives that are so important in moving social justice movements forward.
I’m really looking forward to seeing a great UMBC community turnout at this year’s Critical Social Justice. To learn more about the initiative and the 2015 events, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and our blog.
Contact the author, Jess Myers, at firstname.lastname@example.org.