The Paradoxical Nature of Safe Space
The practice of unpacking extremism means working with young people who are the targets of hateful language and behaviour and with the young people who express this hate.
This demands finding ways to navigate the tension between keeping young people safe while allowing space for difficult conversations to take place. It can also demand, at times, challenging young people who express hate, though we prefer to say publicly addressing.
In this context, ‘safe’ is not about ‘comfort’ rather is about developing a space for ‘disturbing’ and potentially ‘uncomfortable’ conversations to take place. This somewhat paradoxical nature of ‘safe space’ is expressed in Outside in: Transforming Hate in Youth Settings (NYCI, 2018):
“To create a safer space does not necessarily mean guaranteeing a safe space; however, there are various things we can put in place, and actions we can take, to respond to each young person’s need for safety. It is only once you establish, with the young people, what makes a space safe that you can work towards setting it up.”
In summary, guidelines, more commonly referred to as ‘Group Contract’ are named as the way to develop safe spaces for learning.
‘Safer Spaces’ is an excellent resource for the development of group agreements and includes examples of values (e.g. respect) and behaviours (don’t interrupt people) to support safer practice. You can access the resource here https://politicsandcare.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/safer-spaces/
‘Tips and Tricks’ is taken from Beyond Hate. You can access it here https://www.youth.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/PX3815-Beyond-Hate-V2.pdf
This module also incudes an activity to support you create a group agreement.
This is a basic model of facilitation to support practice.
Sources: Mehay, P. (2012) The Essential Handbook for GP Training and Education, London: Radcliffe Publishing Ltd. and Casey, D. et al. (1992) ‘Facilitating Learning in Groups’, Leadership & Organisation Development Journal, 13(4), pp. 8-11. Available here http://www.elementsuk.com/libraryofarticles/facilitating.pdf
In many ways working to unpack extremism means difficulties and conflict will emerge as a natural part of group life. Difficulties include resistance to engage with the task or members/s dominating the space. In terms of conflict it can manifest as hateful language or behaviour.
The role of the practitioner is to work with the group, managing the tension between using group experience to support learning whilst intervening to deescalate conflict that has the potential to damage young people and threaten the survival of the group.
Remember when faced with conflict, you can use the group contract/agreement as a tool for the group to evaluate whether conflict supports the development of safe(r) space. This is essential for learning.
“A core task for the groupworker is to continuously gauge where a group is in relation to healthy conflict and disruptive unhelpful chaos. At the point of conflict, the task is to stop and engage the group around this breach in contract that threatens the integrity of the group, alienates individual group members and marginalises their experience”.
Source: Mc Conville, L. (2020) Understanding Groupwork for Individual and Social Learning, Peace for Youth, NI. Available at https://cooperationireland.org/content/uploads/2020/10/Understanding-Groupwork-for-individual-and-social-learning-YouthPact-2020-Brochure-Digital.pdf
Source: Prendiville, P. (2004), Developing Facilitation Skills, Dublin: Combat Poverty Agency.
This piece from Transforming Hate (2018, p.68) outlines some responses for managing hateful language and or behaviour
Available at https://www.youth.ie/articles/transforming-hate-in-youth-work-settings