23 Group preparation

Humans are complex and unpredictable. Safety is a high priority when using this resource and creating safer spaces requires intention. We don’t know what will happen in each facilitation and we also have limited insights into the lived experiences and struggles that our students bring with them to class. What safety looks like for one student may look very different for another student, especially when a diverse range of people are represented in your group. For example, what may be perceived as liberating and transformative by some may be perceived as intimidating or even threatening by others.

In the boxes below, I describe some of the strategies and resources that have helped us to hold safer, brave and principled spaces for all learners.

Starting with a Group Learning Agreement

One of the most fundamental things we do is to ask students to create a group learning agreement together at the beginning of the course.  This is  a “living document.” Through our entire term together, we revisit and update it as required. By the time we get to the implicit bias module (which happens about week 6 in a 12 week term), the students have had a chance to practice this group learning agreement in lessons that are perhaps lower stakes.

The following example is what we developed in one of our classes. The important thing is not to duplicate our learning commitment, but to develop one with your own students so that they have ownership over it.

Sample Group Commitment (HLSC 2P21, Fall 2022, Brock University)

  • Listen actively to everyone in the room (virtual or live)
  • Be open to different perspectives and viewpoints
  • Always be respectful. Differentiate between disagreeing with people and disagreeing with ideas
  • Recognize that while something might be unfamiliar to you, it may be the lived experience of someone else in the room: be sensitive
  • Work hard to recognize your own biases; be open that you may have biases you don’t yet realize you have or that make you uncomfortable
  • Do not dispute lived experiences of marginalization or struggle that people in the class might choose to share. Listen non-judgmentally to what people choose to share
  • If people share personal stories in the class, do not share them without explicit consent
  • If you don’t understand something, take responsibility for learning about it. Don’t leave it to people who have the experience to educate you
  • Just because you aren’t aware of a struggle or have not experienced it yourself, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
  • If you find it difficult to participate for whatever reason, challenge yourself: recognize that the whole class is enriched by your participation
  • If you find it easy to participate, challenge yourself: make sure you are listening actively and not taking up more than your share of “airtime”
  • Take real responsibility if you realize (or if you are told) that you’ve said something harmful. Apologize. Learn from it. Move on. Do better.
  • This is a safe space to make mistakes; but we have to also take responsibility for the impact of our mistakes and be open to growth.
  • Be respectful. Be curious. Be humble.
  • An inequitable distribution of health promoting resources and opportunities is not inevitable. Neither is an unjust world. Stay hopeful.

Principled spaces: Barc workshop on “Building the Anti-racist classroom”

In the Barc workshop resource “Building the Anti-racist Classroom” (Ramos, 2021), developers draw on the ideas of artist and activist Hanalie Ramos who suggests that “principled spaces” are more useful than simply “safe spaces.” Because we don’t know in advance how a given event, workshop or conversation will go, it is naïve to claim that we can guarantee safety. Citing Ramos, they claim that principled spaces “are better suited to creating the environments we wish to develop: we can commit to adhering to a set of principles that guide and shape the space and increase the possibility of safety for all involved.” Read their six guiding principles.

The authors note that “while these these principles are intended to apply to all, they are written in recognition of existing power structures that continue to marginalize people of colour, perpetuate anti-Blackness and promote white privilege/power.” This is a critical  point for consideration as you prepare your class to engage with high risk scenes.

Creating Brave Spaces

AWARE-LA’s (n.d.) “White Anti-Racist Culture Building Toolkit” supports the development of “consciousness-raising dialogue spaces.” Their ten “Communication guidelines for a brave space” have informed our approach to workshopping this material in racially diverse classrooms. The developers draw attention to the different realities around what brave space can be for White people compared with for People of Colour, and are attentive to historic power differentials that are rooted in racist and colonial policies, attitudes and practices.

This resource is written by White people, and is primarily about how White people can talk about race. It is best used in combination with other resources that are written by People of Colour, and people who are Black and First Nations, Inuit and/or Métis.

Using this resource in a virtual context

Because of COVID 19 public health guidelines, we unexpectedly have had to offer this workshop in fully virtual spaces. It was important for us to reconsider how to shape safe, brave and principled spaces in virtual contexts. We realized that there would be internet and technological inequities between students and while we couldn’t solve these problems, we considered how we could make this workshop most accessible to our learners. We were also attentive to safety around participation and clearly communicated the option to have video on or off and to use the chat box for group participation if that was most comfortable for learners.



Haunting our Biases: Using Participatory Theatre to Interrupt Implicit Bias Copyright © 2022 by Kevin Hobbs; Michael Martin Metz; Nadia Ganesh; Sheila O'Keefe-McCarthy; Joe Norris; Sandy Howe; and Valerie Michaelson. All Rights Reserved.

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