Brave Space? Safe Space? Emergent Space

Post by Chris Ash, Survivor Leadership Program Manager

Over the summer of 2020, two incredible Moxie Scholars from UNC Chapel Hill came to the NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault to create An Educator’s Guide to Supporting 2SLGBTQIA+ Students. As we started work on that project, we found ourselves getting hung up in the challenges of whether to use a “brave space” or a “safe space” framework. We wanted a space in which students who were unfamiliar with queer issues or terminology could ask genuine questions, and in which 2SLGBTQIA+ students (many of whom also hold other marginalized identities) could expect a reasonable amount of accountability and not have to expend additional emotional labor. The two students, Shareen El Naga and Montia Daniels, had recently read Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown, and proposed a third option: Emergent Space. Together, we took the principles of Emergent Strategy and created a third-option based upon it. If you’ve ever felt like “safe space” was too bubble-wrapped but that “brave space” felt too risky, this booklet is for you.

But first, how are they different? How are they similar? Emergent Space attempts to bring together the best parts of both brave and safe space frameworks using a holistic, anti-oppression lens.

Brave Space

  • Individuals responsible for sharing
  • Prioritizes individual “courage”
  • Marginalized folks may do more emotional labor and feel less safe
  • Harm may happen when space is open to discrimination
  • Does not require readiness work

Emergent Space

  • The first several meetings may be dedicated to activities that build trust and establish norms
  • Participants acknowledge privilege to reduce identity- or power-based harm
  • Intentional, shared goal to grow and learn in the space
  • Solution-oriented with an emphasis on process
  • Individual readiness work is encouraged
  • Group collaboratively creates the space
  • Trauma-informed and healing-centered

Safe Space

  • Facilitator responsible for the space
  • Few spaces feel entirely safe for people with some identities
  • People may fear saying the “wrong” thing
  • Unrealistic expectations of a conflict-free zone
  • Does not require readiness work

Elements of Emergent Strategy

Emergent space incorporated the six core elements of emergent strategy.

  1. Has a fractal nature, acknowledging the relationship between small and large.
  2. Is adaptive.
  3. Emphasizes interdependence and decentralization.
  4. Is non-linear and iterative.
  5. Fosters resilience and opportunities for transformative justice.
  6. Continues to create more possibilities.

Want to know more about what this looks like in practice?

Watch this training from PreventConnect and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (link), or read the full text here: Emergent Space.