Many Ohio State University Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) professionals, especially those who teach community nutrition programming like the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) are familiar with the acronym VOICE from Navigating for Success (NFS) by Cornell University. VOICE is used as a set of guidelines during the NFS staff training as well as for staff to use when teaching nutrition programs in the local community. The VOICE concepts are summarized here:
- Every participant chooses their comfort level for speaking in front of the group. They will not be called out and they are encouraged to participate in small group discussion.
- The facilitator will give time for all participants to consider their responses and not rush to the next question.
- Everyone will work to make the class welcoming for participation as well as letting all participants know what is happening at every given moment.
- Start and end of time.
- Encourage one another in class as well as in encouraging one another in ways to approach challenges related to the lesson topics outside of class.
For the 2019 OSU Extension Family and Consumer Sciences conference, it is recommended that FCS adopts the guidelines of “Brave Space” to balance the conference theme of “Growing Your Comfort Zone”. Why this set of guidelines?
- Brave space guidelines and VOICE complement one another.
- Not everyone attending the 2019 FCS conference will have been trained in Navigating for Success. This will offer a common set of guidelines for all conference attendees.
- Brave space describes “the practice of safely fostering challenging dialogue within the classroom environment” (Ali, 2017). Although brave space has most often been used on campuses and university classrooms, the workshops and lessons at a state-wide conference are designed as professional development with goals of on-going learning like that of a classroom. Since the concept of brave space is related to “service-learning and community engagement programming” (Ali, 2017, p8) it also fits well with outreach and extension.
- For Extension colleagues who are interested in learning more about brave space, a list of references and links are provided for on-going work and research.
“Brave spaces are used today in classroom settings as a mechanism to create supportive environments so that all students may equally participate in challenging dialogue. The creation of brave spaces is never without the risk of discomfort for those participating, but they allow for a more enriching and extensive dialog while simultaneously providing tools of support for those who are most vulnerable. The purpose in providing these tools is to enhance – not detract from – participation and academic growth” (Ali, 2017, p9). While the conference planning committee doesn’t anticipate that the conference will be difficult or unpleasant, the topic of “growing our comfort zone” could bring up topics and scenarios that are new and possibly uncomfortable.
What are the five elements of brave space?
- Controversy with civility
- Own your intentions and your impact
- Challenge by choice
- No attacks (Aroa & Clemens, 2013)
A brief explanation of the brave space guidelines and how it applies to the Extension workplace, the state FCS conference and professional development.
Controversy with civility. Varied opinions are accepted.
A common phrase is “agree to disagree.” One problem with this sentiment is that difficult conversations can be brushed off with the idea that, “no one is going to change their mind so why bother having any discussion”? The goal is not necessarily to change opinions or win a debate but to learn and seek understanding of other points of view. Controversy with civility “frames conflict not as something to be avoided but as a natural outcome in a diverse group” (Arao & Clemens, 2013, p144). In addition, the word civility “allows room for strong emotion and rigorous challenge” and that “continued engagement through conflict … strengthens rather than weakens diverse communities” (Arao & Clemens, 2013, p144).
Owning intentions and impacts. Individuals “acknowledge and discuss instances where a dialogue has affected the emotional well-being of another person” (Ali, 2017, p3).
Owning your intentions and your impact is a personal responsibility. It doesn’t force responsibility onto others in the way that the dismissive phrase, “don’t take things personally” might. The element of owning intentions and impacts certainly requires self-reflection which also takes time. Owning intentions and impacts isn’t necessarily the default during difficult discussions. It is not uncommon for individuals to have a defensive reaction during uncomfortable experiences. How do you best assess yourself, acknowledge your intentions and how you impact others?
In addition to self-reflection, “communicating effectively helps group members build trust and respect, foster learning and accomplish goals” (Franck Cyr, L. 2004). GroupWorks: Getting things done in groups offers a nice summary of active listening as well as direct, assertive expression. In addition, they address that feelings of anger during conflicts, “can provide information and stimulate energy that can be used positively” and there are productive ways to express and receive anger (Franck Cyr, L., 2004). It is recommended to use communication strategies such as the I-statement or I-language. For example, I feel …. (make a clear statement of how you feel); when ….. (name the specific behavior or situation that caused you to feel that way); because …. (say why the behavior or event is upsetting) (Manage Your Money, 2019). Additional phrases or steps added to I-language include: reflect the other’s perspective and end with either a suggestion or solution such as “can we try ….?”
Challenge by choice. Personal option “to step in and out of challenging conversations” and activities (Ali, 2017, p3).
This phrase has roots in youth experiential education programming and outdoor learning. It acknowledges the individual’s “right to choose the challenge to try something outside his or her comfort zone but to be respected by the facilitator and peers if ultimately deciding not to follow through” (Torretta & VanderWey, 2019). While facilitators respect and recognize that engagement in activities cannot be forced, participants will be encouraged to, “be aware of what factors influence their decisions about whether to challenge themselves on a given issue” and to “think about what keeps them from challenging themselves” (Arao & Clemens, 2013, p. 147).
Respect. “Show respect for one another’s basic personhood” (Ali, 2017, p4).
While this element is easily accepted by most people, Arao and Clemens point out that respect might look and sound different to everyone. Some examples of respect are rooted in culture. One example they gave was the difference between not interrupting someone (in order to show respect) verses other settings and cultural contexts where “interruption and talking over one another is welcome” (2013, p148). Their goal is not to create a consensus of exactly what respect looks and sounds like but to encourage participants to be aware of “the different ways they can demonstrate respectfulness to one another” (Arao & Clemens, 2013, p148). In addition, participants are also encouraged to reflect on “how they might firmly challenge the views of someone else in a respectful manner” (Arao & Clemens, 2013, p148).
No attacks. No intentional harm on one another.
Like respect, most people accept this element as a valuable part of discussion. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to disagree on, “the differences between a personal attack on an individual and a challenge to an individual’s idea or belief or statement that simply makes an individual feel uncomfortable” (Arao & Clemens, 2013, p148). Some examples of attacks are obvious like name calling and should not be used in civil discussion. At the same time, when emotions are involved and the discussion feels heated, statements could easily be misconstrued as attacks when that is not the intention. Arao & Clemens remind participants, “that pointed challenges are not necessarily attacks, but the uncomfortable experience that may result can sometimes lead to a defensive reaction” (2013, p149) (Naden & Stark, 2016) (Zembylas, 2015). This is an example of a moment when it might be beneficial to take a deep breath and review the list of brave space elements. Ask yourself: Is this scenario really an attack or is it an example of controversy with civility? As a participant in this conversation, am I being honest about my intentions and my impact within the discussion?
The goal of brave space is to create “a climate where students are willing to ‘risk honesty’ so that an authentic exchange of ideas becomes possible” (Ali, 2017, p6). Growing our comfort zone might involve some risk but it is encouraged as a calculated risk in order to grow and learn from one another.
Ali, D. (2017). Safe spaces and brave spaces: Historical context and recommendations for students affairs professionals. NASPA Policy and Practice Series. Issue 2. Retrieved from: https://www.naspa.org/images/uploads/main/Policy_and_Practice_No_2_Safe_Brave_Spaces_DOWNLOAD.pdf
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. Retrieved from: https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/inclusive-teaching/wp-content/uploads/sites/355/2016/06/From-Safe-Spaces-to-Brave-Spaces.pdf
Franc Cyr, L. (2004). Bulletin #6103, Effective Communication, GroupWorks: Getting things done in groups. University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Retrieved from https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/6103e/
Manage Your Money Lesson 1: Getting started (2019). Ohio State University Extension, Retrieved from https://fcs.osu.edu/programs/major-program-areas/healthy-finances/money-management/manage-your-money
Naden, Y., & Stark, M. (2017). The pedagogy of discomfort: Enhancing reflectivity on stereotypes and bias. British Journal of Social Work, 47 (3). Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/bjsw/article/47/3/683/2622288
Navigating for Success Lesson 1: Getting acquainted and facilitating learning (2017). Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University.
Torretta, A., & VanderWey, S. (2019). Creating group norms by using full value commitments in experiential education programming. Journal of Extension, 57 (3), 3TOT8. Available at https://www.joe.org/joe/2019june/tt8.php
Zembylas, M., (2015). ‘Pedagogy of discomfort’ and its ethical implications: The tensions of ethical violence in social justice education. Ethics and Education 10 (2):163-174.