In this blog post, Allison List writes about how her Brave Space idea came to life with the combined efforts of her Counseling program colleagues and professionals at other Oregon universities.
I sat to write this blog post on 1/6/21, the day our Capitol was attacked. There is so much irony in writing about the experience of our Brave Space initiative colliding on the day’s events. As I began to construct my thoughts while also watching the day continue to unfold, I pivoted from this blog to writing statements to my students and colleagues communicating concern for yet another trauma resulting from white supremacy. I want to be clear, there is no getting around this term anymore and there is no getting around the argument that white supremacy is the underlying reason why I am writing this blog post in the first place. White supremacy is the exact reason why we strive to create safe and brave spaces for students to discuss their experiences away from groups at large. Sure, there is safety in smaller numbers and it is no doubt easier to be vulnerable in a smaller group, but the groups and structures in which our students find themselves in at large do not provide safety to discuss experiences that fall outside of what our society has deemed normative. What’s important about the term “normative” is that it dangerously creates structures that build upon a narrative that racial injustices and inequalities are the status quo; where we accept such acts great and small as normal. Each new event of racialized crimes and actions that strive to keep the dominant narrative alive and well, while all unique, also play a repeated theme and reflect how we feel and have felt about race in America. In my opinon, it is crucial that we provide the space to discuss the differences in narratives, and the pain that is associated with the dismissal of experiences held by many of our students and collegues.
A little less than six months ago I joined a team of colleagues in a series of on-going meetings called, “Call to Action” within the College of Education that addressed the current state of racial affairs across the country. Throughout our meetings of discussing civil unrest and reckoning, a pandemic was swirling with no end in sight and wildfires were sweeping across California and Oregon. While I had carried my own burdens from COVID, I was still able to leave my home and not be ridiculed for being associated with the virus. Despite social distancing, I could feel safe in my own skin in my neighborhood and community because no matter where I go, I can move freely. My home was not under direct threats from wildfires. To my core, I could still feel a sense of safety amidst the various swirls of chaos, and to hold that level of privilege, as beneficial as it is, is just as equally undeserved. As I sat in my own reckoning with this particular experience, there was only one obvious answer in addressing my experience and the intense suffering of those around me: advocacy.
Later that day, a little idea sprouted about holding virtual safe spaces designed for students and faculty to process how they were experiencing the world and it was pitched to my department. We quickly went from a single person idea to a team of three. That team of three strengthened the original pitch and together formed a greater alliance that extended to our Counselor Educator colleagues beyond our Corvallis backyard and across the state of Oregon. Those efforts grew our team to nine, spanning across five organizations/institutions. Our team of nine held what we called, “Brave Spaces,” which were online groups designed to support those who were suffering in our communities and foster a sense of connection. Across the last eight weeks of the fall term, 13 Brave Spaces were held for 17 graduate students in Oregon institutions, some of which attended multiple sessions. This effort was not about contracts and work loads. We gave our time because we believed in the cause and we wanted to support where we could.
While it is always nice to have data to help us understand the experience in a different way, this project was never about the numbers. This project was about humanity and connection. This project has allowed us to flex our positions of power and privilege to step up and do something.
In my experience across the past two decades in education, advocacy work has been lonely. I often feel like I was and often am swimming upstream alone. Colleagues that I thought were like minded and on board, quickly dwindled when the work got hard, controversial or it meant giving something up of their own. To see the efforts in which we came together as clinicians and counselor educators across the state will forever make me feel less lonely. Our team of nine, will forever have my utmost respect and admiration for giving when their tanks were no doubt empty or close to. Our team made a difference in a student’s life when they reported feeling unsure whether they mattered or belonged. THAT moment of giving will be something that I will consider a success and a spark of inspiration on the days where I feel like we are going nowhere or can’t influence any type of change. Our Brave Space team will be connected through this work as colleagues and allies. I would like to thank each and every one of them for the help and support to get this project up off the ground. I would like to especially thank Arien Muzacz and Kok-Mun Ng for their ideas, support and willingness to keep trudging on with full plates. Without the two of them, we wouldn’t have been able to see the potential and lines of support that existed outside of our little backyard, and without all of you, none of this would have taken place. With that I say, we continue to push on and center our work on challenging the status quo and provide safety and connection in our community.
We would like to recognize the following people for their time, energy and contributions to the project:
Allison List, Oregon State University
Arien Muzacz, Oregon State University
Chung-Fan Ni, Western Oregon University
Kok-Mun Ng, Oregon State University
Jeff Christensen, Lewis & Clark College
Max Utterberg, Oregon State University
S. Anandavalli , Southern Oregon University
Sofia Jasani, Oregon Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development
Victor Chang, Southern Oregon University
As Dr. Ng often says, “Go in courage.”