How to build a safe space at your school
An effective strategy for building community in your school is by fostering a safe space such as an alliance where individuals can access a supportive community of peers. Safe spaces have been found to be helpful at fighting feelings of isolation and improving self esteem.
Steps you can follow if you want to start your own safe space:
- Determine what type of organization you would like to form: A peer counselling group should be private and confidential. But an all-genders and sexualities alliance can be public, using public displays of acceptance to make the school feel like a more inclusive space.
- Enlist the help of a teacher or faculty member of your school: This person can act as a liaison between you and the principal or other authority figures within the institution, depending on how much your school empowers students to form groups. They can also function as mediators or guides in group discussions if need be. Have conversations with this person about what your expectations for the project are, and determine what role you want them to fulfil. Ensure they are aware of the rules regarding trust and confidentiality that you expect all members to uphold when you set up the space.
- Gather names of persons willing to join the safe space or gay-straight alliance: This is especially important if you need to petition for the right to start the organization/group. This would be determined based on your school’s policies for starting student organizations.
- Pick a meeting place: it should be physically safe, comfortable and welcoming. For instance, if using a classroom, you can move the chairs into a circle so that everyone can see each other and no one is intimidated by having to stand and face a crowd. You may want a room that offers more privacy and confidentiality. The teacher/faculty adviser should be able to help with this. The presence of a teacher can also jeopardize how safe some students may feel talking about their feelings or experiences, so you should determine beforehand, how involved they are going to be in the groups’ meetings.
- Marketing: Ideally, the group should not be a secret. In addition to supporting persons in the school community who are particularly excluded, the purpose of groups such as this is to influence public opinion. It does so by showing the benefits of supporting each other rather than tearing each other down. You can use face to face recruitment, talking to your friends and classmates. You can post about your alliance to social media, or at a school assembly, inviting your peers to join in.
- Your first meeting: Your first meeting should be a place to discuss the vision of the organization, what do you want to do, how you want to achieve it and what rules are members expected to follow. What effect do you want to have on the school community? How can you achieve this?
What are some activities can you do:
- Group therapy/chat
- Book club, featuring books by queer authors or featuring queer characters
- Fundraisers for your own group activities, or for charity drives
- Planning school assemblies on issues related to gender and sexuality, on diversity and acceptance
- Anything you would like to build community and rapport