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"Safe Space" in the Classroom

The following discussion of "safe space" for women in the classroom took
place on WMST-L in November 1994.  Participants attempt both to define the 
concept of "safe space" and to assess its advantages and drawbacks.  For 
additional WMST-L files now available on the Web, see the WMST-L File List.
Date: Tue, 1 Nov 1994 08:14:22 -0500
From: Cheryl Sattler <sattler @ IRIS1.SB.FSU.EDU>
Subject: Creating Safe Space for Women in Classrooms
I hope someone will be able to respond to this request.  I have a good
friend who has been doing the preliminary research for her dissertation.
As a feminist psychologist, she began by looking at gender equity studies
of classrooms, etc.  There I could help her, as a sociologist and an
educator.  However, she has now shifted to trying to find out how one goes
about creating safe space (similar to that safe space we create in a
counseling relationship, or in a women's shelter) for women in co-ed
classes--particularly in non-women's studies classrooms, such as the
general psychology courses she teaches.
Any key literature would be helpful.  Please respond privately, unless it
seems of general interest to the list.
Cheryl Sattler, Ph.D.
Florida State University
FAX (904) 644-0643  PHONE (904) 644-1142
internet: sattler  @  bio.fsu.edu
Date: Tue, 01 Nov 1994 23:32:17 -0600
From: beverly randall <bev @ MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU>
Subject: Creating Safe Space for Women in Classrooms
On 11/1/94 Cheryl Sattler wrote concerning the research of a friend:
>However, she has now shifted to trying to find out how one goes
>about creating safe space (similar to that safe space we create in a
>counseling relationship, or in a women's shelter) for women in co-ed
>classes--particularly in non-women's studies classrooms, such as the
>general psychology courses she teaches.
I, like some others who have posted messages concerning this subject, would
like to know better what is meant by "safe." It seems problematic to me,
even disturbing. The image of a women's shelter or any kind of shelter for
that matter seems contrary to the educational needs of the contemporary
multicultural classroom. I hope that by remaining open to my students'
varying points of departure, experiences and opinions that a safe place for
debate is created. Ideally, the students feel they aren't judged on their
opinions but are encouraged to speak no matter what they may have to say
relevant to the topic of discussion. Sometimes students are rebutted
immediately by others in the class. Controversy is good. I usually remain
quiet unless a devil's advocate is required (which would of course be my
own judgement and involve my own politics). I'm new at this, I guess, and
have yet to encounter sexism that isn't immediately picked up by my female
I realize that my imagination is a product of my culture but the image of
creating a "safe space for women" in my classroom also conjures up the very
disagreable image of the female professor as a mother hen, warding off all
the cocks who seem a little too forthright. Are male professors expected to
create this haven as well?
Please excuse me if I've misinterpreted what you mean by "safe."
Beverly Randall
Dept. of French and Italian
University of Texas at Austin
bev  @  mail.utexas.edu
Date: Wed, 02 Nov 1994 08:30:01 -0400
Subject: Creating Safe Space for Women in Classrooms
Cheryl writes that we need to create "safe space in classrooms for women which
is similar to that safe space we create in a counseling relationship or a
women's shelter." I feel that comparing the goals of a classroom to a
therapeutic relationship is extremely dangerous, for it eliminates the
possibility of serious disagreement - even conflict - about ideas which I
believe to be necessary for real learning to go on. A classroom should be
"safe space" for all students but only in the sense that they are free there
to exchange ideas, explore differing points of view, and to open themselves
up to challenges to their own points of view.
Joan D. Mandle
jdmandle  @  center.colgate.edu
Date: Wed, 2 Nov 1994 09:29:02 LCL
Subject: "Safe" -- from what?
I think this discussion of "safe space" is very important.  One needs
to ask, "safe -- from what?"
There are things from which I think *every* classroom ought to
constitute safe space -- those including at least: safety from
physical assault, abuse, threat or harrassment; safety from sexual
assault, abuse, threat or harrassment; safety from verbal assault,
abuse, threat or harrassment; safety from political and economic
persecution, retaliation or revenge for expressing one's beliefs,
feelings and ideas; safety from teachers', parents', or
administrators' abuse of power; safety from environmental health
hazards; safety from acts of war and terrorism; etc.
On the other hand -- I believe sometimes people, including students,
need some kinds of safety that professional educators cannot and
probably should not endeavor to provide in an academic classroom.
For example, many people at some time in their lives need a "safe
space" in which to emotionally "fall apart" -- in order to begin some
process of recovery or healing or rebuilding.  I think this kind of
safe space needs to be provided by therapists and/or others who know
more about facilitating such healing, not by teachers in academic
classrooms.  Many women need a "safe space" at some time in their
lives in which they can be assured that ex-boyfriends or ex-husbands
or ex-lovers will not know where they are or what they are saying,
thinking or discussing. I think this sort of security cannot be
provided in an ordinary classroom setting.   Many people need a "safe
space" in which they can tentatively explore previously unembraced
identities, for example gay or lesbian identities, Jewish identities,
etc.  I think that teachers should be VERY CAREFUL about encouraging
the use of the classroom for such purposes -- because of
confidentiality issues.  Many people might need a "safe space" in
which to explore and/or come to terms with previous life-trauma, such
as rape, war, abuse, torture, imprisonment and other experiences of
violence.  I think that the academic classroom is not equipped to
provide such a space for those who need it.
And then there are other issues as well.  I think that classrooms and
all the people in them must be *very* clear about the differences
between intellectual challenge with respect to ideas, and personal
attacks against the holders of ideas.
All too often I see people wrongly equating 2 different kinds of
things, both with academically disastrous results.  One is when people
erroneously equate emotional safety or caring with uncritical
acceptance of absolutely everything they might think or say.  Even the
mildest question about why they might believe a certain view is
experienced as a "personal attack".  I think that's not good;  we must
not be that delicate and fragile that we cannot hear and think about
legitimate questions posed with respect to our beliefs and ideas.  The
second is when people erroneously see no difference between attacking
a person's *integrity* ("Why you unreasonable, ignorant jerk!") and
legitimately challenging that person's *beliefs* ("How is it that you
believe <x> when <....evidence or reasoning to the contrary> would
seem to indicate <some other belief or idea> rather than <x>?")
I also think this is related to a massive amount of confusion about
the difference between feelings and beliefs.  People confuse these in
colloquial speech all the time ("I feel that so-and-so is the better
candidate for the job.")  Psychologists have urged us to listen to,
and not to argue with, one another's *feelings* -- which is a good
idea.  But feelings not-to-be-argued-with are things like "I feel
sad";  "I feel angry";  "I feel delighted";  "I feel
underappreciated"; "I feel sick to my stomach"; "I feel embarrassed";
"I feel unsafe";  *NOT* "I feel that so-and-so is the best candidate"
or "I feel that women belong in the home" or "I feel that this
painting is pornographic" (which are *beliefs*, not *feelings* and
which *should* be able to be challenged and discussed, pro and con, in
a classroom).
Well, once again, sorry this got so long, and thank you for reading this
far;  I'll quit here.
----------- Ruth Ginzberg (rginzberg  @  eagle.wesleyan.edu) ------------
Date: Wed, 02 Nov 1994 20:34:24 -0500
Subject: "Safe space"
I agree entirely with Beverly's and Joan's reservations about the
concept of a "safe space" as anything other than the normal, civil
classroom that all people ought to be able to support.  Women all over
the world have struggled (some are still struggling) for access to
higher education.  The idea that women students need a "safe space"
beyond that which all students in a very general sense have a right to
suggests to me that these students are being conceptualized as
emotional cripples or fragile vessels.  Such a view is likely to be
far more damaging to young women than lively and, yes, even heated
debate.  This is a very unfortunate and, it seems, fairly recent
development of feminism, and it does no honor to the women it claims
to serve.
Daphne.Patai  @  spanport.umass.edu
Date: Wed, 02 Nov 1994 23:32:00 -0500
Subject: "Safe space"
Wonderful discussion of "safe space."  I generally agree with Ruth,
Daphne, Joan, and others who've suggested that the academic classroom
is not the place for limiting voices or doing therapy.  And I agree
that safe from physical or psychological abuse is different from safe
to express.  Yet, in Women's Studies classes we often profess that the
personal is political.  How can we draw the line between safety to
express the personal and therapy?  When students connect their
personal experiences with politics the result is sometimes tears or
anger or rage or feelings of helplessness, which come close to if not
require some kind of theraputic intervention.  I don't know how to
deal with this, but it seems to happen every time I teach psychology
of women.  At any rate (it's late and I'm rambling) I think we might
need to differentiate "safe from hostile ideas" from "safe to express
one's own feelings."  I think the former safety dangerous and the
latter safety necessary in most WS courses.
Arnie Kahn   fac_askahn  @  vax1.acs.jmu.edu
             fac_askahn  @  jmuvax
Date: Wed, 02 Nov 1994 12:03:22 -0500
From: Patrice McDermott <patricem @ CAP.GWU.EDU>
Subject: Creating Safe Space for Women in Classrooms
On Wed, 2 Nov 1994, Joan D. Mandle wrote:
> Cheryl writes that we need to create "safe space in classrooms for women which
> is similar to that safe space we create in a counseling relationship or a
> women's shelter." I feel that comparing the goals of a classroom to a
> therapeutic relationship is extremely dangerous, for it eliminates the
> possibility of serious disagreement - even conflict - about ideas which I
> believe to be necessary for real learning to go on. A classroom should be
> "safe space" for all students but only in the sense that they are free there
> to exchange ideas, explore differing points of view, and to open themselves
> up to challenges to their own points of view.
> Joan D. Mandle
> jdmandle  @  center.colgate.edu
I agree with Joan.  I am currently teaching a course on the politics of
race, gender & class -- with a quite diverse group of students -- and when
I mentioned to a student that I felt some unease & tension among the
students about topics and threads of the conversation, she said "But this
class is supposed to make us uncomfortable" meaning it was supposed to
challenge easy assumptions and conventional insights.  Which, to me, is
precisely what critically-oriented education is supposed to do -- and what
feminism is meant to do.
Patrice McDermott
patricem  @  cap.gwu.edu
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 1994 08:32:05 -0600 (CST)
From: Stephanie Riger <U29322 @ UICVM.BITNET>
Subject: beyond "safe space"
I'd like to take the discussion of safe space in feminist classrooms a
step further.  I wholeheartedly agree with those who believe that the
classroom should be a place where challenging, even antagonistic ideas
are presented (and, of course, challenged themselves).  THe question
becomes how to handle conflict in the classroom in a way that does not
squelch students' freedom of expression.  For the past two years, our
Women's Studies program has organized a monthly faculty discussion group
on "gender, race, and classroom dynamics" and we talk about this often.
Does anyone on this list have specific teaching strategies for dealing
with conflict in the classroom, or issues likely to bring out conflict
such as race, abortion, etc.?  If so, I'd appreciate it if you would
share them.
Stephanie Riger
Women's Studies Program (M/C 360)
Univ. of Il. at Chicago
1022 Behavioral Sciences Building
1007 W. Harrison St.
Chicago, Il. 60607-7137
Bitnet: u29322  @  UICVM
Internet: Stephanie.Riger  @  uic.edu
Fax: 312-413-4122
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 1994 09:47:01 -0500
Subject: "Safe space"
Arnie, if only that minimalist definition "safe to express one's own
feelings" were the general rule.  But as many students in women's
studies classes will tell you, they do NOT feel that sense of safety,
because too often a few grandstanding "feminists" have set the tone
and terms of debate and anyone who's not on their wavelength is made
to feel they deserve banishment to the outer darkness.  My own feeling
is that less emphasis on the "personal" and more on intellectual
growth is what an academic environment should be fostering.  It's also
the guess, I believe, that teachers need to take note of whatever's
missing/suppressed from a *particular* intellectual setting.  When
there's no room for any sort of feminist perspective, it's that that
needs to be introduced. When there's no room for anything BUT a
feminist perspective, it's a bunch of other things that need to occur
in the classroom.  Feminists have not, as far as I can tell, on the
whole done better than their forebears in striking a proper balance in
the classroom.  D.
Daphne.Patai  @  spanport.umass.edu
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 1994 09:55:02 -0500
From: Cheryl Sattler <sattler @ IRIS1.SB.FSU.EDU>
Subject: Safe Space--A Clarification
Not to belabor this point, but this was a literature request for a friend.
I am not in a position to defend/explain/debate this issue, although it
seems to have struck a nerve on this list.
Has anyone read any work that addresses these issues so she can get a
handle on the area of research?
Thank you for your help.
Cheryl Sattler, Ph.D.
Florida State University
FAX (904) 644-0643  PHONE (904) 644-1142
internet: sattler  @  bio.fsu.edu
Date: Thu, 3 Nov 1994 10:11:37 LCL
Subject: "Safe space"
>... teachers need to take note of whatever's missing/suppressed from a
>*particular* intellectual setting.
In many of my classes, I schedule a "Process Day" following each
book/unit/etc. -- which is time set aside to ask the question, "How
did our discussion of this last book/subject/unit go?"  This is
explicitly time to note things like, what did we ignore that we should
have discussed? did any particular perspective dominate the
discussions? did anyone feel silenced? if so, how and why? did the
material get quality attention & thorough discussion?  if not, why
not? did we get sidetracked?  how & why?  etc., etc.  I find this to
be very vaulable.
----------- Ruth Ginzberg (rginzberg  @  eagle.wesleyan.edu) ------------
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 1994 11:07:00 -0500
From: Debian Marty <dmarty @ MAGNUS.ACS.OHIO-STATE.EDU>
Subject: safe space
I, too, am interested in lit sources on pedagogy and safe space.  I often see
the term "safe space" used as a goal in feminist pedagogy but the term
unpacked.   It is simply employed.

One of my concerns about the term that echoes what many others have said is
that i fear it masks the reinscription of privileged discourses and ways of
knowing/being into the classroom under the morally responsible trope of
safety. reinscribing privilege is certainly not all that "safe space" does,
but i think it ironically and perhaps unconsciously acts as a conduit for
validating privileged ways of talking, dealing with conflict, processing
information and feelings, that end up not only creating unsafe space but masks
recognition of the very tensions it creates.

yucky, isn't it?

still contemplating,
debian marty
dmarty  @  magnus.acs.ohio-state.edu

oh, p.s.  I see safe space employed in pedagogical literature that deals with
authority in the classroom.  see, for example, Maher and Tetreault's new book
THE FEMINIST CLASSROOM (1994).  it is a common dilemma.
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 1994 10:14:09 -0600
From: Linda Coleman <cflsc @ EIU.EDU>
Subject: safe space
While any student dominating a classroom discussion should
be attended to by the instructor, I think we might have some
understanding of the varying motives for this behavior.
Specifically, in response to an earlier posting, I wonder if
when some students who strongly identify as feminists speak
out in strong voices it is a result of the silencing they
experience in other settings.  To understand this does not mean
that we accept their silencing effect within our classrooms but
that we work from a sympathetic perspective in trying to resolve
the conflict.
Linda S. Coleman
Eastern Illinois University
cflsc  @  eiu.edu
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 1994 09:46:27 -0800
From: Susan Arpad <susan_arpad @ CSUFRESNO.EDU>
Subject: "Safe space"
I could not let the statement, that a "few grandstanding feminists" are
what make women's studies class feel unsafe, go by without comment.
We must teach in very different situations.  In the past 15 years of
teaching women's studies classes the ratio is probably 1:20 of
feminists who make the classroom feel hostile to anti-feminists (women
and men) who make the classroom feel unsafe.  Susan_Arpad  @  CSUFresno.edu
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 1994 09:02:05 -0800
From: Madelyn Detloff <6500mad @ UCSBUXA.UCSB.EDU>
Subject: safe space
I once had a colleague in Confluent Ed. advise me that responsibility
entails the "ability to respond."
This may seem like a tautology, but it has helped me in my attempt to keep
the classroom open to conflicting ideas without my feeling unable to
intervene when someone makes a racist or homophobic or misogynist comment.
I feel that I am being responsible to my students when I take the time to
respond to such a comment or, better yet, invite response from the rest of
the class.  Sometimes just that invitation is all it takes for quiet
students to offer a thoughtful response to the comment.
It's also important for me to assume that comments are offered with best
intentions for furthering discussion. Certainly somtimes comments aren't
offered with best intentions, but taking them this way, acknowledging the
negative consequences, and then using that comment to further discussion
of the issues (rather than persons) often will defuse some of the tension
in the room.
Also, on difficult topics like violence against women, racism or homophobia, i
find it helpful to remind them that there most likely are people in the
room who are directly affected by the issues we discuss.  I might say
something like "one in four college women has been the survivor of
attempted rape."  The students usually can figure out the math and realize
that in a large class, they should assume that there are a number of
survivors in the classroom.  I prefer to acknowledge personal
experience in this general sort of way beforehand, so that students don't
feel they have to offer painful personal testimony in order to make the
rest of the students in the class understand that the ideas we discuss in
class aren't just esoteric academic exercises, that they have material
effects on flesh-and-blood people.
Madelyn Detloff
6500mad  @  ucsbuxa.ucsb.edu
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 1994 10:31:39 -0800
From: Cecilia Julagay <JULAGAY @ UCRAC1.UCR.EDU>
Subject: beyond "safe space"
Last spring after agreeing to teach a class on "Racial and Cultural
Minorities," I was talking to two veterans of this class - they both
related tales of yelling matches in the class, unhappy students, poor
teacher evaluations, etc.  I decided to confront the situation head
on.  The first day of class, before I said anything, I wrote 2 quotes
on the board:
    Education is the not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of
a fire.
            -William Butler Yeats
    ... diversity is like fire.  When controlled and stimulated, fire
can drive turbines to light cities and run factories.  Out of control, it
can destroy everything that it helped build.
            - B. Eugene Griessman,
                in: Diversity: Challenges & Opportunities
    I explained to the class that the 1st quote indicated that I
expected students to interact in the classroom - with each other, the
course material and life experiences.  The 2nd quote was to remind them
that the fire referred to in quote 1 was to be a "controlled burn."
There was going to be no tolerance for anyone putting anybody else down.  As
far as possible all individuals would be allowed to present their view,
providing that they didn't put anybody else down.
    The class turned out to be a wonderful class.  I witnessed students
of very diverse backgrounds backing each other up, etc.  There seemed to be
much growth in the students - and in me - I came away feeling more
    - Cecilia             Julagay  @  ucrac1.ucr.edu
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 1994 15:45:43 -0500 (EST)
From: Rosa Maria Pegueros <PEGUEROS @ URIACC.URI.EDU>
Subject: Safe space
I am always astonished at the venom directed at diversity. When I look back
on my own college and law school experience, I see nothing that resembles
safe space for anyone except perhaps egotistical male professors. I remember
professors who used their authority to skewer students, male and female, though
the women were privileged in that only they were the butts of sexual jokes
both from male students as well as faculty. My male Black and Latino classmates
(of whom there were very few) were not the objects of any kind of attention,
good or bad: they were invisible, and thus ignored.
To be fair, I did have some fine professors (all male, I might add), but never
saw anything that resembled anything in my experience--neither women   nor
Latino/a professors, nor works by Latinos/as. The message that came through
loud and clear was that there were too few of us to be important and the works
from authors of our region were too lowly for consideration.  And since the
only students of color in my university class were unquestionably affirmative
action students, ie., members of the football or basketball team, I could
not help wondering how I got past the gate keepers.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez's *One Hundred Years of Solitude* was not published
in English until I was in my last year of college. But the book that preceded
Marquez and which some say inspired him to write his book,  *Recollections of
Things to Come* by Elena Garro of Mexico, did not see publication in English
until long after that. For all the exposure I had in literature classes in
college to Latin American literature, one would have believed that all
of Latin America was pre-literate.
Forgive me if I write with such passion about this, but I feel deeply that
these issues, multiculturalism, diversity, women's studies and safe space
are related. Part of the influence of women in the university is  seen in the
desire to create safe space--for all students, not just for women, and not just
as victims. Why should learning be an adversarial process? It is arguable
that if you are being trained to be a lawyer exposure to that method is neces-
sary, but if we are teaching literature, philosophy, history, whatever, what
good can come from having a classroom that is not "safe space"? I think that
the desire to hold on to the canon is a desire to have a rigid, inflexible
standard and that this is a remnant of the colonial past. We are a vibrant
society, rich in ethnicities, races, cultures, and women (in the sense that
women have finally gained the right to have public lives) and we should
feast on these riches. I read and loved Plato, Aristotle, and many of the
classics, but had I not become immersed in my own culture, I never would have
known that there are great works that rival the thinking and the beauty of
expression in the classics.
Rosa Maria Pegueros
Rosa Maria Pegueros             e-mail: pegueros  @  uriacc.uri.edu
Department of History           telephone: (401) 792-4092
217C Washburn Hall
University of Rhode Island
Kingston, RI 02881-0817         "Women hold up half the sky."
Date: Fri, 04 Nov 1994 13:53:44 -0600
From: Sarah Ullman <seullman @ TIGGER.CC.UIC.EDU>
Re: safe space discussion
I teach a course on victimization and the issues of rape, domestic violence
and child sexual abuse usually bring up debates about feminist issues, as
we examine a variety of perspectives on the causes, consequences, and
prevention of these crimes.
This is an advanced seminar course and though sometimes people relate
accounts of crimes that they know about in their social network or in
the media when we discuss a particular topic (e.g., when we discussed
domestic violence/battering, one woman talked about how she is affected
by neighbors where she lives in which this is occurring on a regular basis).
Such examples bring the academic material to life and help us sort through
what we think of different theories of victimization.  Gender and race
are salient issues and I attempt to allow all perspectives to be heard and
to add ones that I see are missing when that occurs.  I am careful to give
all students equal 'air time' and not to 'favor' certain viewpoints over
each other, in order to permit students to air views even when they know will
be criticized by others.
I also try to model constructive responses myself that acknowledge
what the person says and their right to their opinion, but also does
not simply agree with everything, if I think there are reasons to be
critical of the viewpoint.  I am careful to focus the discussion on
the articles we are reading, but also to allow time for viewpoints
to be expressed, and will sparingly let them know my own viewpoints,
as I think that is also important.  (I am sure my attempts are not
totally effective in making people feel free to state all their views,
but I think one can only do one's best to approximate this as much as
I find the men and women in the class freely express their views in
this context, of course there may be views that are not expressed,
and some males tend to support a more feminist perspective while others
are staunchly against it.  There is also variability in women students
on this as well.
I bring up theories about race, gender, class that inform the understanding
of victimization, yet I also review classical theories some of which do
not address these issues as I want them to see the variety of perspectives
that exist and think about them critically.
I find that students are shocked at the statistics and scope of many forms
of victimization and that alone takes time to process.  I have found
that the atmosphere that is created allows the exchange of ideas
and even some personal experiences of victimization as they come up.
There have not been problems in the classroom thus far of
students disclosing emotional distress or their own personal experiences
that they need help for.
Where that does happen is outside of class, when they sometimes come to
me to tell me about experiences they have had/are having, as they perceive
the topic of the seminar and my demeanor to be receptive to that, which I am.
I listen to those experiences and try to help them find resources.
I make clear that I am not a clinician both I the classroom and outside.
Students often simply want acknowledgement of their experiences and guidance
about where to find help for themselves or others they know.
I do acknowledge to them that all of this information is a lot to take in
as it was for me, and sometimes still is, when I first learned about it.
I think one can acknowledge a student's viewpoint or feeling (those
two things are not always separate) without having the classroom turn
into a therapy-like environment.
I have had very positive evaluations of this course from the students,
so hopefully this is a good sign that the atmosphere is a constructive
learning environment.
Sarah Ullman, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Criminal Justice
University of Illinois at Chicago
Date: Fri, 04 Nov 1994 17:36:25 -0500
From: SueBD @ AOL.COM
Subject: Safe Space
Greetings, all
I am speaking here from the viewpoint of both a student and a teacher.  I'm
not sure either how I would define "safe space" in a classroom, but I know I
have experienced it.  I took Psychology of Women and Intro to Women's Studies
from a woman PhD candidate with some interesting qualifications:  she has an
MSW and practiced as a social worker before she went back for her PhD in
social psychology.  Thus she has considerable small group and even therapy
experience.  She is very accessible and approachable.
The atmosphere she is able to create ensures that everyone feels "safe" to
express their views on a subject without being ridiculed or ignored.
 Inclusivity, acceptance, and sensitivity to different cultural realities is
emphasized.  Furthermore, people sometimes even revealed events of a highly
subjective painful type, illustrating that people generally felt "safe."  Our
class in Psychology of Women consisted of a lesbian, a couple of men, several
African American women, and some white women of various ages, and although we
had some really rousing discussions, I don't recall that we ever really felt
Part of her teaching style is to employ a lot of this type of safe
discussion.  Another part of it is to require a personal journal that is read
(and commented on briefly) only by her.  A journal allows the student to
process information that may strike a more personal chord without revealing
it in front of the rest of the class.  I think the material uncovered in a
Women's Studies-type class is not merely "academic" information, but it also
touches women's lives in a way that most other academic subjects do not.  The
journal allows a "safe" way to express these thoughts and feelings.
Another teaching technique she has employed on occasion is to require
students to Email each other weekly with comments on the class material.
 This, in my opinion, really built group cohesiveness and stimulated
discussion in a way entirely different from that in face-to-face interaction.
 More personal things were revealed "safely" than in class.
So, this is my experience, and although I cannot define "safe space," I am
certain that I experienced it.
Sue Boettcher
<SueBD  @  aol.com>
Date: Sat, 05 Nov 1994 07:12:52 -0500
From: Dennis Fischman <dfischmn @ ACS.BU.EDU>
Subject: safe space in the classroom
I don't know exactly what to think about this issue.  I have to agree with
the folks who have stressed that controversy is a part of any good
classroom, espeecially a feminist classroom.  Most of the postings,
however, seem to me to ignore real concerns, some of which are classic
feminist issues.
1) Sometimes, demanding reasons for a belief can be a form of intellectual
bullying.  This is true when a student is trying to formulate an idea for
the first time, perhaps making sense of her experience in a new way.
Other students or the teacher can stifle her thought processes by
insisting that either she give reasons, provide evidence, cite
authorities, answer counter-arguments, and so on, or abandon her fledgling
belief.  Women have found themselves particularly vulnerable to this kind
of silencing in the past (see the work of Robin Lakoff).  Without having
to agree with them, necessarily, how do we nurture new insights on those
personal matters that feminists have rightly diagnosed as political?
2) Many of our students have histories of abuse of various kinds.  (When
I say "many," the psych lit says up to half.)  Most have not fully come
to terms with their experience.  What would be safe in the abstract for a
detached, rational subject is not safe for real people.  Can we demand
that our students act out an Enlightenment fantasy of reason in order to
be accepted in our classrooms?  On the other hand, how much care can we
provide when we typically don't know our students personally and we have
courses to teach, regardless?
I'm not claiming there are any easy answers, but it seems to me that
teaching *about* feminist theories of domination and then ignoring
instances of domination in front of our eyes is sending exactly the wrong
message to our students.
Dennis Fischman
dfischmn  @  acs.bu.edu
(617) 776-4701 home
(617) 353-2907 work                     "Ph.D. in changing the world"
Date: Mon, 07 Nov 1994 09:51:09 -0400
Subject: safe space in the classroom
It seems to me that "bullying" should not go on in classrooms (or elsewhere
for that matter). That said, asking students to give reasons for their
views is one of the most important way to encourage them to learn to think
for themselves and question their own views. This is essential. To conflate
that with bullying is specious. Teachers who require thoughtful reasons by
bullying are undermining good teaching, but of course we have not defined
bullying. If we see students as fragile and ill, then simply asking them
anything maybe interpreted as bullying. I find it terribly condescending
to assume that students, especially female students, have to be treated as
if they are mentally ill. They should be treated with respect, as competent
adults, as should we.
Joan D. Mandle
Director, Women's Studies
Colgate University
jdmandle  @  center.colgate.edu
Date: Mon, 07 Nov 1994 17:31:28 -0800
From: Madelyn Detloff <6500mad @ UCSBUXA.UCSB.EDU>
Subject: "man-hating" and homophobia
I have been following the recent developments in the "safe-space"
discussion with great interest.  While i haven't read Daphne Patai's new
book, and therefore am responding only to the comments i have seen on the
list, i am troubled by the characterization of "grandstanding feminists"
as discussion stoppers.  What is the difference between a "grandstanding
feminist" with passionate ideas about gender issues and any other student
who might feel strongly about an issue or subject (say Blake's idea of
the sublime, or Emmerson's theories on self-reliance)?  We want our
students (male and female) to feel entitled to speak in class, don't we?
We also don't want one or a few students to dominate discussion.  From my
perspective the whole idea of the "grandstanding feminist"  assumes that a
feminist perspective is ideologically charged (i.e. biased) and
that the other perspectives in the room are somehow ideologically neutral.
 All intellectual positions are ideological, even those that claim
dissinterested objectivity.  Our task is to help our students understand
how their own intellectual positions are ideologically situated.
In re: the phrase "man-hating":
i think the political unconscious of this term is homophobic, a vestige of
the lesbian baiting that has been and still is used to discredit the
feminist movement.  ( i know there are women (& feminist women at that)
out there who hate men, just as there are quite a few misogynist men out
there.)  But i think the anxiety among young women who support feminist
causes and yet hesitate to call themselves "feminist" is about being
mistaken for a dyke.  (I am a lesbian, and i call myself a dyke, but i am
not a man-hater).  I use dyke in its perjorative sense because of the
connotations of ugliness, unattractiveness in the economy of male
heterosexual desire, the term has in dominant culture.  When a woman says
something like "i believe in reproductive rights and other women's issues,
etc., but i'm not a feminist; i don't want people to think I'm a
man-hater," i think the unspoken and maybe unacknowledged subtext of that
statement is "i don't want people (especially men) to think i'm a lesbian.
 i don't want to make myself ineligible to be the object of male desire."
I wonder if anyone else out there reads "man-hating" this way?
Let me be clear: i don't think we have to accuse young women who use this
phrase of homophobia, rather examine the homophobic cultural logic which
equates feminism with man-hating with lesbianism *and* assumes that it's a
bad thing to be a lesbian or even (especially?) to be mistaken for a
Madelyn Detloff
6500mad  @  ucsbuxa.ucsb.edu
Date: Tue, 08 Nov 1994 16:57:31 -0700
From: Diane Price Herndl <dpherndl @ NMSU.EDU>
Subject: "man-hating" and Lorena Bobbitt
Over the last few days, we seem to have pushed the discussion about the
negative image of feminism into corners:  it is the media's fault or it
is our (or "grand-standers") fault; it is homophobia.  Could it not be
all of the above?
Let me offer an example.  At a WS conference we hosted here last year,
one woman came to the conference wearing a jacket she had painted with
the words "Lorena Bobbitt Fan Club" and a knife dripping blood.  (I'm not
kidding.)  OK, so there, it seems to me, is an example of
"grand-standing" that is pretty hard to defend.  But it is hardly a
representative of "feminism" either, at least of any other feminists I
In comes the media:  the local paper chose one photograph to illustrate
the story on the conference (which was, by and large, an awfully tame
conference by anyone's standards) and it was--you guessed it--a
photograph of that jacket.
Now is this "our"/feminism's fault or the media?  I blame both; certainly
*I* blame the media more, but then, again, in our desire to create a
"safe-space" where everyone can voice their views, do we neglect to offer
constructive self-criticism?  Do we neglect to "call" other feminists on
positions that seem more destructive than helpful?  I think so.  I can
certainly say that I didn't say a word to the woman about her
jacket--even though I was angered by it.
But (and this is a big but) is there yet a safe space in which to carry
on this critique of feminism?  I mean this as a genuine question.  I've
gone on record in print (I'm not promoting my work BTW, just offering a
disclaimer) publicly speculating that disagreements among feminists get
more attention than agreements and have blamed this on a patriarchal bias
in the media and in scholarly circles.  I'd say that recent discussions
on this list about Summers' work only verifies this.  But I also point
out that in participating in such debates, we participate in the
silencing of both new work and of the genuinely constructive.  (Works by
analogy to discussions on the network about flaming and whether to ignore
them or respond.)
Anyway, I'm wondering what it means if THIS space--this cyberspace of
Women's Studies--can't be a space where we genuinely investigate what
someone means by "grandstanding," or has to be a space where we find easy
answers to hard and complicated questions.  This sounds more like a
rhetorical question than I mean it to--many members of this list,
remember, are here because it is the only place where they AREN'T
attacked for being feminist (I'm luckily not one of those).  Can we
expect everyone to respond "properly" when their (only) "safe space"
suddenly seems threatened?
Diane Price Herndl
NMSU English Dept.
dpherndl  @  nmsu.edu
Date: Tue, 08 Nov 1994 18:07:33 -0600 (CST)
From: "Diana M.A. Relke" <relke @ HERALD.USASK.CA>
Subject: safe space
I'm a few days behind in reading my WMST-L mail, so I've only just gone
through the material on this.  On 3 Nov, Stephanie Riger askt for "specific
teaching strategies for dealing with conflict in the classroom," so I
thought the list might like to see something I came by a few months ago,
namely, "Sue Wendell's Rules of the Classroom."  Sue is a philosopher in
WMST at Simon Fraser University.  I adapted these rules for one of my own
courses this year.  It occurs to me that they might also provide a useful
guide for behaviour on this list.  Here's the text--with apologies to Sue
for the typos:
The first and most fundamental principle for participating in my classes is
RESPECT.  I promise to do my best to treat everyone in the class with
respect, and I expect everyone else in the class to do the same.  From this
principle, I have derived the following guidelines which I ask everyone in
the class to follow:
1.  Take your fair share of class time for asking questions and speaking,
but do not take more than your fair share.  Remember that not everyone is
equally confident about speaking in class, so leaving room for others, and
allowing periods of silence, may be necessary to give everyone an equal
chance to be heard.  Ask your self once in a while whether you are taking
more (or less) than your fair share of speaking time, especially if you
know yourself to be a talker (or if you know you tend to give way to
others).  If you are unsure, ask some other students to tell you honestly
whether you are talking more or less than your fair share.
The purpose of the "participation in discussion" portion of the grade is to
give those students who are good at speaking an opportunity to benefit from
their strength, not to punish or pressure those who prefer not to soeak in
class (see rule 2).  The grade will be based on your ability to listen to,
respond to and leave room for others, as well as your ability to contribute
relevant thoughts and experiences to the discussions.  I will be glad to
discuss and negotiate that portion of your grde with you at any point in the
2.  Do not pressure anyone else to speak.  I do not expect anyone to speak
in class unless s/he wants to, and I consider it part of respect for others
to remember that there are cultural and individual differences concerning
speaking in classrooms.
Students who prefer to speak little or not at all in class can fulfill the
"participation in discussion" portion of the course requirements in other
ways.  Please let me know (in person or in writing) if you prefer an
alternative to speaking in class, and we will find a mutually-acceptable
substitute.  (One possibility is writing a few short commentaries on the
topics of lectures or class discussions).
3.  Speak respectfully to and about everyone in the class, and bout people
who are not here.  Remember that there are differences among us that may not
be apparent to you.  For example, a casual remark about "crazy people" may
be hurtful and inhibiting to someone in the class who has had a mental
I am offended by racist, sexist, heterosexist, ablist, anti-Semitic and
other remarks that stereotype people as members of groups and/or express
prejudices against them.  I will object to any such remark that I hear in
class, and you are welcome to do the same.  The recommended response to such
an objection is to clarify what you said (if you were misinterpreted) or
I realize that for most of us, including myself, it is a struggle to
recognize our false assumptions and our hurful behaviour.  For example, most
people occasionally say something that assumes that everyone else is like
themselves, such as something that assumes that everyone shares their own
ethnic or religious background, or something that assumes that everyone can
walk or see.  These remarks can make people who are present feel ignored and
left out, and they can make it seem that we are describing or theorizing
about everyone's experience when we are not.  Learning to be more inclusive
and/or more modest in our statements is a process; for myself, I suspect
that the process will never be complete.  Therefore, although I expect us
all to try to avoid STEREOTYPING OR PREJUDICED behaviour, I don't expect
moral and political perfection, nor do I claim to have it myself.  I try to
balance righteousness with compassion and understanding, and I would
appreciate your doing the same.
4.  Please feel free to criticize points of view, beliefs, opinions,
statements, behaviour, institutions and social patters.  Please avoid
criticizing people.  For example, say: "I think what you just said is sexist
(ablist, racist, heterosexist, false, whatever), because . . ."  and not:
"You are sexist (ablist, racist, heterosexist, false, whatever)."  Better
yet, just say that you disagree or object and explain why.  Please do
likewise when speaking about people who are not in the room (and therefore
unable to defend themselves).
I ask you to do this because I have found that people can re-think their own
statements much better if they are not forced to identify with what they
have said.  Changing or defending a statement is a much smaller matter than
defending one's honour or intelligence.
5.  Remember that not everyone's first language is English, and that even
among those whose first language is English, not everyone is equally able to
express her/himself clearly.  Be patient with one another.
During discussions, please give everyone in the class the benefit of the
doubt.  This means that if there is a more intelligent, interesting,
plausible or charitable interpretation you can give to what someone said, or
a good idea you can derive from it, please do so.  It makes discussion much
more fruitful, since we can then discuss interesting ideas rather than
people's mistakes/weaknesses in expressing themselves.  (This is a good
principle to apply to reading too.  If you look for the most interesting
interpretation, you will learn more from what you read.)
6.  You are welcome to tell the class your own experiences when they relate
to the subjects being discussed.  Personal experiences are often valuable
contributions to discussion, especially if you can relate them directly to
the issues being discussed.  Nevertheless, I do not EXPECT students to
reveal their personal experiences of the situations we will be studying
unless they want to do so.  Please do not pressure anyone in the class to
share personal experiences.
7.  Please keep personal stories and personal information shared by other
students in classroom discussions confidental, or at least anonymous, when
discussing the class with others.  For instance, use the expression,
"Someone in my class said . . ." rather than names.
8.  Please don't expect students to "represent" or "give the opinion of"
groups to which they apparently belong.  For example, don't ask a student
with a disability what people with disabilities think about such-and-such.
Unless we are explicitly empowered to do so, none of us represents anyone
but her/himself.
9.  Everyone in the class has the right to make mistakes, including the
instructor.  I regard making mistakes as one of the most effective ways of
10.  You are welcome to express disagreement with anything said in class,
including anything I say.  I will grade your work for the course on the
basis of your knowledge of the course material and your ability and
willingness to work with the material, as described in the assignments.  You
can disagree with my views and still earn an excellent grade for the course.
End of text.
I was at a WMST conference a couple of years ago where several people during
their presentations made comments that led me to believe they had figured
out how to create the "safe space" in their classrooms.  It all seemed
pretty mysterious to me.  Given the hostility around feminism--not to
mention within it, if feminism can be said to have a "within" and a
"without"--I don't feel safe in my own classrooms, so I don't expect my
students do either.  I teach a course in contemporary feminist theory, and
the reading list itself is a demonstration of how unsafe the space is around
feminism: the politics of difference are nothing if not political in the
best and worst senses of that term.  I find that once students see how
really filthy feminists can be to each other in the literature, they usually
try to behave in a more civilized fashion to one another.  And the
not-so-feminist men in the class?  Well, they get to see that feminists
aren't so politically correct after all, and their defenses start to melt a
Diana M.A. Relke
Women's and Gender Studies
University of Saskatchewan
relke  @  herald.usask.ca
Date: Thu, 10 Nov 1994 09:36:00 -0500 (EST)
From: "linda l. anderson" <LLA @ YALEVM.CIS.YALE.EDU>
Subject: "man-hating" and homophobia
regarding safe space for students:  i think it has got to be made okay for
women to hate what men do, rather than being defensive about it, just like it
must be made okay for people of color to hate what whites do, for liberals to
hate what conservatives do, for the disabled to hate what ableists do, etc. .
linda l. anderson
lla  @  yalevm.cis.yale.edu
Date: Thu, 10 Nov 1994 10:36:33 -0500 (EST)
From: "Gina Oboler, Anthropology & Sociology, Ursinus College"
Subject: "man-hating" and homophobia
Linda Anderson writes:  "i think it has got to be made okay for women to hate wh
at men do rather than being defensive about it, just like it must be made
okay for people of color to hate what whites do, for liberals to hate what
conservatives do, for the disabled to hate what ableists do, etc.  ."
I think I can understand, and mainly agree with, the sentiment underlying this
statement, but I am uncomfortable with the way it is framed.  Liberals
hating conservatism (or what conservatives do) and the disabled hating
ableism (or what ablists do) seems to me equivalent to women hating sexism
(or what sexists do) or people of color hating racism (or what racists do)
rather than women hating what men do or people of color hating what whites
do.  I believe it is important to try not to think of PEOPLE in such
categorical terms.  No doubt we all -- and not only men or whites -- retain
traces of racism and sexism.  It is also undoubtedly the case that men and
whites systematically benefit from sexism and racism.  Not all men are rampant
sexists, and I believe that it is important for feminism, in the long run,
to build strong alliances with feminist men.  So I'd be a lot more comfortable
talking about hating "what sexists do" than "what men do.
  -- Gina (roboler  @  acad.ursinus.edu)
Date: Mon, 14 Nov 1994 15:02:39 -0500
From: Cheryl Sattler <sattler @ IRIS1.SB.FSU.EDU>
Subject: Safe Space--a finale
Although several of you wrote to me privately requesting a list of the
books and literature recommended regarding safe space in the classroom,
only one book was mentioned, and it was mentioned on the list.
Nonetheless, for all who are interested, the book recommended was  Maher &
Tetrault's new book, The Feminist Classroom (1994).
If there is additional literature that anyone might add to this,
suggestions are welcome.
Cheryl Sattler, Ph.D.
Florida State University
FAX (904) 644-0643  PHONE (904) 644-1142
internet: sattler  @  bio.fsu.edu

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