Dangerous Spaces workshop challenges conception of safe spaces

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As part of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) Social Justice Days series, the “Dangerous Spaces: Trauma-Informed Facilitation Skills for Holding Triggering Conversations” workshop took place on Feb. 13. Kai Cheng Thom, community worker and mental health professional, facilitated the event.

The workshop was held as a critique to the concept of ‘safe space,’ conversations which allow participants to discuss issues including, but not limited to, sex, gender, and race without being judged, stigmatised, or physically attacked. These conversations often involve marginalized minorities, queer individuals,  and sexual assault survivors who have personally experienced oppression.

Contrary to the popular perception that a ‘safe space’ provides a platform for traumatised persons to talk about their experiences without disruption and discomfort, Thom suggested that these types of conversations may actually be emotionally triggering and make participants more vulnerable. 

“Sometimes along the way, we’ll encounter something that’s very, very painful for us, and be flooded by emotions,” Thom said. Instead of ‘safe space,’ he calls the platform ‘dangerous space.’

According to Thom, such conversations are necessary for the sake of confronting the past. 

“It’s like healing a broken bone: When a bone is healing, it often heals [imperfectly]—kind of crooked,” he said. “To fix it, it has to be re-broken and reset.”

During the interactive session, participants were paired up as ‘mothers’ and ‘children.’ Each ‘mother’ used a special sound signal, such as clapping or snapping fingers, to lead their respective blindfolded ‘children’ to navigate around the room. Then, the ‘mothers’ and ‘children’ were forced to separate. The ‘children’ had to find their way back to their ‘mothers’ by listening to the pre-decided signals.

The game was meant to simulate a triggering experience, or a ‘dangerous space.’ 

“It directly addresses some of the anxieties physically: Not seeing in public, interacting with strangers,” Thom said. “The reason I wanted to do it was just to demonstrate a very possibly triggering, dangerous activity […] and to show that it can be done in a way that is slow […] consensual […] well-explained and contained, but not necessarily risk-free.”

Sabine Grutter, U3 Arts and Science, and participant in the workshop, said she was pleased with the event. 

“I found the workshop very informative and useful for community organization,” Grutter said. “One of the best things we can do in communities is […] to allow solidarity, [to acknowledge] spaces that we’re having […] and to help each other to improve.”

 The event was a part of the 10th annual instalment of Social Justice Days, a series of activities that explores social justice issues through workshops, demonstrations, screening and performances, hosted by QPIRG McGill, a campus group dedicated to environmental and social justice.  From Feb. 12 to 13, six workshops were  held on campus, with topics ranging from state violence to queer politics.

Kira Page, external coordinator of QPIRG McGill, explained how activities were chosen for the series.

“There’s a big committee, eight or nine of us who are mostly student volunteers, and some of our board and staff,” Page said. “We brainstorm topics or ideas that would be interesting [….] We sent e-mails […] and asked the community groups and campus groups to submit workshop ideas.”

Page also explained the two main objectives of the Social Justice Days events. 

“One is to […] create a diversity of political voices on campus and bring in perspectives and topics that often don’t get discussed at McGill,” she said. “The other part is to give students a really concrete [opportunity] to actually get involved.”

The topics covered in the series vary year by year, according to internal coordinator of QPIRG McGill Kama Maureemootoo.

“We see what are […] important and relevant [issues] in the moment—that’s how we do our programming,” Maureemootoo said.