Safe Spaces

Safe Space: a tool for allowing deep and consensual dialogue

“In order for any discussion to be productive, you must create an open and relaxed atmosphere.”
-Anti-Oppression discussion guidelines

You can use this tool creatively, adapting the intensity of the 4 basic principles to different situations, depending on the level of risk being taken in each setting. Some components of these tools may be inappropriate for some settings, and invaluable in others. The more personal risk involved, the more carefully you want to frame the space at the outset, because a secure anchor is the only thing that will enable a process to fly to the heights of its potential.

A few settings I’ve used this tool in are: board meeting, activist/organizational meetings, co-facilitators/teachers meeting, co-op/group house meeting, personal relationship talks, and discussions with persons of authority.

The 4 Principles of a SAFE SPACE

Equalize the Space
confidentiality – share stories and experiences, not names and gossip step-up/step-down – give space before you take space, and challenge yourself to step out of your pattern value and encourage risk taking, while maintaining everyone’s right to pass challenge the idea or the practice, not the person everyone has equal worth in this discussion, and all knowledges and opinions are equally valid

Check Your Assumptions
no judgments or disclaimers (including self-judgments)
maintain gender neutrality in your language, and inquire about preferred pronouns
treat everyone as an individual and not a representative of any specific group
personalize your knowledge, don’t project it (i.e. use I statements)
believe in our common best intentions

The Right to be Human
we all have the right to be human (i.e. inconsistent, emotional, triggered, etc. )
avoid blaming people for the misinformation taught to them
acknowledge emotions
practice forgiveness

Practice Consensual Dialogue
active listening – attention focused, maintain appropriate eye contact, check your body language, take breaks only when you need to
silence is okay – an unforced pace of dialogue is one into which people can step-up safely
be sincere and consistent, practicing respectful honesty

Things That Make Us Feel Safe/Unsafe

This is a list generated by 2007 Action Camp participants of guidelines for creating a
safe space throughout the week.

Things That Make Us Feel Safe

• Freedom to speak openly
• Knowing I have a buddy
• Open communication
• Freedom to not speak
• Making space for people to speak
• Acceptance that everyone has their own opinions
• Honesty
• Willingness to recognize each others’ triggers/how we get triggered
• Taking responsibility
• Love & Acceptance
• Laughter & Crying
• Willingness to call each other out & be called out
• Critique of ideas, not of people
• Affirmation of people
• Mutual understanding of confidentiality
• Fun
• Empathy
• Talking about how to facilitate these activities in other groups
• Ability to leave
• Ability to call a time out, if needed
• Opportunities to check in

Things That Make Us Feel Unsafe

• Threats
• Assumptions about my motives and/or intentions
• Expectation to conform; be involved in group think
• Using position of power to dominate a situation
• Being touched without permission
• Problems aren’t brought to group’s attention but discussed in small groups
• Passive aggression
• Using exclusive language
• Unnecessary yelling
• Hard drug use; excessive alcohol
• Resentment
• Judgement
• Aggressive body language
• Loud noises
• Very vocal negativity/absolutes
• Guilt tripping
• Knives left out
Creating Comfortable Spaces for People of Color: Action Steps

Participants at 2007 Anti-Oppression Action Camp compiled this list of Action Steps.

• When an organization is started, it shouldn’t be made up of white people
• Ask people of color/support people of color in their decision to be on the board or
in leadership roles
• Examine your intent
• Focus on people in leadership roles in a community that has asked to have access
to resources that you have access to
• Food
• Cleanliness
• Some single-gender showers in addition to existing co-ed showers
• Offer single rooms/apartments
• Hold movie nights w/ movies of non-white cultures
• Go to cultural events as a house
• Checking in
• Make sure your words/symbols are inclusive [i.e. not all Queer PoC identify with
the rainbow]
• Hold a People of Color issues caucus with no staff members present (if necessary)
• Examine how members get recognition: look for paternalism and tokenism
• Listen and look around you: what’s happening; resources
• Put yourself out there. Don’t go fishing. Be an ally. Learn.
• Make your space comfortable
• Don’t refer to people as diversity [ex. we would like to be a more diverse
organization rather than we want more diversity in our organization]
• Be honest
• Teach people how to be called out/call people out

Facilitation Games

Facilitator Pointers:

1) don’t just explain, involve yourself in it – modeling personal investment in process invests
2) encourage risk taking and model it appropriately – keep it challenging
3) keep rules to a minimum
4) bend the rules appropriately
5) don’t run a good game into the ground – know when to move it along; conversely, know
when to give up on a game and change your plans
6) keep the players playing – don’t let people be ‘out’ for too long
7) pick fair teams/groups – don’t let them self-segregate or fall into old ‘comfort zones’
8) play games that are as gender/class etc equitable as possible – context dependent
9) emphasize competition against selves, not others (i.e. ‘beat our best time’, not ‘beat them’)
10) the fun of a game can be an end in itself – refrain from making every activity have a ‘larger message’
(these games are loosely categorized for reference only; they should be used and adapted whenever and wherever useful.  Some require SAFE SPACE to be in place before attempting, as noted)

Icebreaker/Name Games

“How do you get around?”
arrange group into circle large enough for some movement
each person states:
1) their name and
2) mode of transportation that starts with the first letter of their name
3) an action or sound to correspond with his/her mode of transportation
4) everyone else’s name/transportation/movement who came before
variation: animals, nickname

“I’m coming to the Party and bringing…….”
Group circles up. The facilitator starts by saying, “My name is……. and I’m coming to the party and bringing ______” (something that starts with the first letter of their name). The next person says, “That was (first person’s name) and they are bringing (the object they named). My name is (their name) and I’m coming to the party and bringing” ….. etc. Each successive person must name all those that have come before them – if they forget, they have to ask for help. Variations: name the party (is sex party, co-op work party, zombie prom, underwater fantasy, space aliens, etc; be mindful of the group’s boundaries).

“The Line Up”
The facilitator asks the group to form a horizontal line without talking, in order of: height, birthday, shoe size, age, etc.  Variation: for advanced players, try eyes closed
Everyone in a circle, keep the ball ‘alive’ a la hacky-sack, but with any body part. everyone counts each time the ball is hit, and you can’t hit it twice in a row. Group size: 10 or less

“The Circle”
stand in a circle, all facing counterclockwise.
the it person begins to enact and narrate an activity (i.e., sits down to tie their shoe while telling you about their day.)
everyone in the circle imitates the person directly in front of them, not the original leader.
the facilitator stands in the middle and calls next at their discretion, and the person behind them becomes it

“Get Connected”
you need a hula hoop
the group forms a circle and introduces themselves to the people on their right and left. join hands, with the hula hoop over one arm. attempt to pass the hula hoop around the whole circle without breaking hands.
variations: add a decreasing time limit and do it 4-5 times; no talking and everyone blind; people touching the hula hoop blind, everyone else telling them what to do, etc

Pick 2 people within a larger group (…in your head! Don’t announce it!)
Stay equidistant from each of them (i.e., in an equilateral triangle)
Try not to run into anyone.

“Room Sized Scrabble”
Everyone in the room grabs a letter (you need scrabble letters)
You have 10 minutes to get into a word
Bonus – if you join all the words (ala a scrabble board)

“Find a person with…”
the facilitator calls out “find a person with (some characteristic)” the group then scrambles to find a partner with that trait, and links arms those left without partners are out some sample traits: same eye color, brown hair, the same sign, lived in the same city, favorite cookie,height etc etc  alternative version – the out person (or people) get to call out the next trait; some guidelines should be established as to what are appropriate comments; that said, this can be used at different points in the training with different intents and confidentiality levels

“Peanut Butter and Butterfly”
everyone is given a compound word (like cupcake or waterfall) – one person is given ‘cup’ and another ‘cake’ etc. then they close their eyes and try to find their partner-word by sound only. once they find their partner, they link arms and stay silent.
variation: give compound words with overlapping parts (as in the title) and see what happens to the remainders – incorporate into a new layer/use as a transition to a new game; when partners find each other, have them introduce themselves and find something in common

“Alternate Gordian Knot”
the group forms a circle.
everyone puts their right hand in and grabs another person’s hand. then they put in the left hand and grab another person’s hand. now everyone should be holding hands in a big knot
rules: you cannot grab the hands of the people next to you; you must grab the hands of two different people now, instead of slicing through this knot, co-operatively untangle it without breaking the thread ?

group forms a circle and joins hands. the ‘leader’ breaks their left hand free only, and begins to walk around the circle, as the person they broke hands with stays in their spot. everyone holding hands follows along, forming a spiral around the stationary person. as the spiral gets tighter, the people in the center stop moving until the spiral is all wound up – stay outside people’s physical boundaries.
the person in the center has to find a way out without disconnecting anyone’s hands – once they do so, they lead the group back into a circle.

Trust Building

“Pour your Weight”
Partnered and group physical trusting – no hands getup, contact improve, ‘wind in the willows’ “touch someone on the back who”

the group forms a circle and holds hands. the facilitator sends an impulse (hand squeeze) around the circle variations: eyes closed; time it and do it a few times; do snaps, whistles, finger snaps, claps etc

played in pairs
partners decide who is the camera and who is the photographer the camera closes eyes, the photographer places hands on camera’s shoulders photographer leads the camera (eyes closed) around the room and positions the camera and takes a picture by squeezing the camera’s shoulders the camera quickly opens and closes his/her eyes – the collage ensues.  camera and photographer take turns

“Trust Walk”
Variation: imaginary trust walk

“Find the Laugh”
NOTE: ground rules about appropriate behavior should be laid before hand, as this can get
threatening (i.e. no touching, heavy breathing, etc)
group stands in a circle, with one facilitator in the middle. play begins when the facilitator approaches a player in the circle and does everything possible to make them smile or laugh. Any player who laughs or smiles joins the facilitator and helps work on the rest of the stony faced players. play ends when hysteria reins.

“Have you ever?”
the group forms a circle and marks their ‘spot’ with something recognizable (slips of paper work), leaving one person in the middle without a spot. that person asks “have you ever.......?” ending the question with something they have done. every person who answers yes – you have the right to pass – must move to another spot at least 2 spots away from their original spot. the last person left without a spot asks the next question.

"Step Out”
NOTE: this is a SILENT activity, and should only be done once a SAFE SPACE has been
established. the group forms a circle, including the facilitator, and holds hands. the facilitator then reads a list of‘step out’ questions and directions. ex: “step out if you have ever felt alone. (pause) take a look around you. (pause) please step back. step out if you…” etc. when a person chooses to step out, they drop the hands of those in the circle, and take one step toward the center, where they pause, look around, and then rejoin the circle and hold hands again. the last question should be “step out if you could have stepped out for a question, but chose not to”.
variations: at the end of the activity, hold a brief guided meditation (on our oneness, on the
connection of the community, honoring our common experiences and bravery in sharing them, etc); before and/or after this activity, do an “Impulse” activity.

NOTE: this is a SILENT activity, and should only be done once a SAFE SPACE has been
in this activity, every person in the group will hug every single other person. the group of people being hugged is silent and still, with their eyes closed. the huggers approach the people in that group individually, and silently hugs them, holding on until they feel the impulse to let go. appropriate behavior, respect of personal boundaries, and maintaining silence is essential for allowing people to take risks in this intimate exercise.
logistics: the group is split up into an even number of groups and rotated until everyone has hugged everyone else; the facilitator participates, though must also keep the game moving and enforce the
safe space.
ex: 40 people are split up into groups of 10
1) each group splits in half and hugs each other / reverse
2) the groups become whole again, and A hugs B while C hugs D / reverse
3) A hugs C while B hugs D / reverse
4) A + B becomes one group which hugs C + D / reverse

“Hot Seat”
split the group into smaller ‘trust groups’. appoint a timekeeper with a second hand or a stopwatch.  one person sits in the middle of the group and the group asks them questions continuously for 60 seconds. the person has a right to pass on any answer. after 60 seconds the next person gets into the ‘hot seat’ where they are questioned, etc.

“In the Middle”
split the group into small ‘trust groups’. One participant is ‘in the middle’, and is silent. The other participants have roughly 2-5 minutes each to relate their first impression of, first experience with, and perhaps current relationship to the person ‘in the middle’. After everyone has finished, the person ‘in the middle’ has 2-5 minutes to respond, while everyone else is silent. Rotate until everyone
has gone.

“The Wall”
split the group into small ‘trust groups’. Each participant has 2-5 minutes to tell the group about their ‘wall’, to describe the front that they put up to the world, the nature of their armor, how and why they feel it came to be, and their current relationship to it. The other participants are silent, and do not respond during the activity. Rotate until everyone has gone.

Conscious Learning Games

group writes anonymous responses to questions, crumpled up, thrown in the middle, redistributed and read aloud some questions: What does it mean to be a facilitator? What makes a good facilitator? What are some qualities in a good facilitator, and how do you relate to these qualities and their practice? etc

“Listen and Respond”
group pairs off. person one speaks non-stop for 2 minutes (if you have trouble filling the space, just keep saying words until your train of thought catches up) while their partner practices active listening. person 2 then relates back to person one what they heard. partners switch roles. group should think about: when is it important to express your opinion? when should you hold back? (do as
a group debrief)

Everyone starts clapping to a regular beat.
On the fourth beat, the first player says a word.
Four beats later, the next player says an associated word.
Anyone who falters, breaks the rhythm or says an odd word is out.
When everyone has spoken a word, repeat on every third beat, then every two, then every single beat.
Goal: making people cognizant of/comfortable with a pace and the rhythm of a process.

“Hidden Leaders”
Players sit in a circle, facing in.
One person leaves the room and a leader is appointed.
S/he leads the players by performing certain movements, etc. which they follow.
Odd person returns and tries to guess who is the hidden leader.
Goals: realizing that there are hidden dominants in group processes and that finding them is the key; also think about how the hidden intricacies of familiar relationships look to an outsider coming in

“Marginal Spaces”
place out a huge cloth (4 sheets pinned together), representing the space for a marginal community.
the group must all fit into the community space. then fold the tarp in half, and repeat. continue until no one can fit on the tarp.
variations: separate the group into ‘identity groups’ and give them special rules (i.e. the LGBTinterest group won’t help someone from the Republican group stay on the tarp, and the religious groups won’t help the queers, but the different people of color groups will help each other before helping a queer etc etc; perhaps use numbers or colors or days of the week to avoid triggering labels?
or consciously use the labels?) as the game progresses, look at who gets ‘pushed out’ of the community space first, last, by whom etc.; make provisions for changing the rules internally for the second round – i.e. give them ways to work with each other, maybe even to overrule the facilitator (i.e. a sit-in to preserve the space??)

the group splits up into teams of 3. the teams have 5-10 minutes to find something in common within their members that is as unique as possible within the larger group. at the end of time, groups share their fact with larger group and others who share it raise hands. the number of hands equals number of points for your team. the team with the least number of points wins.

variations: frame the activity with the following thoughts/avenues for interrogation-

1) Assumption—(focus: exposing assumptions, creating open foundation) hand out paper,
anonymously write one fact/truth than you believe most people in the larger group will have in common; give a context—a container for responses; write up on board! 1 min.

2) Sharing—(focus: establishing intimate relationships fast) find similar story/experience obeying above Rules; give another related context. 5 min.

3) Negotiation—original ideas (focus: group dynamics, roles within negotiation situations, patterns of interaction) after step 3, do structured feedback and analysis. 10 min.
Questions to ask: Did anyone take the lead? What did that look like? Who talked the most?
The least? How often did you get 2/3 of the way there? What did you do when you did? How did the space feel? Did any one person take up more space? Less space? Were you paying attention or did you zone out? What did you feel your role in the group was? Who did the most work? What is ‘work’ in this situation? Was there an instance where you took the lead? Etc.

Questions asked, silent, responses line up on a spectrum according to their beliefs (variation on ‘step out’)