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Braver Space: Feminism in the classroom

Panel discussion to be held on November 24 at The Loft in MacEwan Student Centre

Professor Rebecca Sullivan is one of the featured panelists at Braver Space: Feminism in the Classroom Photo by Riley Brandt

November 18, 2015

What is Braver Space? How can it transform the Feminist Classroom? Increasingly, instructors and students realize that studying social justice issues requires different pedagogical practices that “call in” our own privileged perspectives and respect differences in experiences and identities. Feminism in the Arts, a new initiative spearheaded by Philosophy graduate student Stephanie Reyes, explores these issues with a panel discussion on Braver Space, featuring professors Pallavi Banerjee, Carol Berenson, and Rebecca Sullivan. Professor Nicole Wyatt, head of the Department of Philosophy, which is now the administrative home of the Women’s Studies program, will chair the event, which will be held at The Loft (MacEwan Student Centre 487) on Tuesday, Nov. 24, from 2 to 3:30 p.m. 

 Feminist activist scholars realize that teaching feminism isn’t the same as teaching from within feminist spaces. When there are real bodies at risk, the classroom needs to be a “braver space” where personal and political experiences come together and create new paradigms of intellectual discovery.    

“To me, Braver Space means just that – finding ways to be as brave as possible in the face of devastating injustice in this world,” says Women’s Studies director Rebecca Sullivan. “It can be tough and exhausting because it demands more thoughtfulness about who could feel hurt by what I want to teach? Who might have actually experienced the injustice that I’m teaching about in the abstract? And also, who has been sheltered from this injustice and might find my theorizing dangerous to their world view.”

Some might call this “coddling,” but advocates of braver space argue that the only people being coddled are the ones refusing to consider other people’s experiences and perspectives. “Braver space isn’t ‘comfortable space,’” remarks Banerjee, a new appointment in the Department of Sociology and an expert in race and gender and other intersectional dynamics in the family. “It’s the opposite. We acknowledge up front that the conversations we’re going to have in class, the evidence we’re going to analyze is disturbing and distressing. Therefore, we have to have some conversations not only about how to bravely push beyond own personal limits but also how to clearly articulate our obligations to support everyone in the classroom as they push their own.”

Berenson, with the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, has been practicing feminist pedagogy in sociology and Women’s Studies classrooms at the University of Calgary for over a decade. "For me, feminism in the classroom is about approaching both teaching and learning with a concern for issues of power and privilege, and a desire to create and maintain an inclusive learning environment. Developing a critical analysis can be uncomfortable and challenging, therefore engagement around the issues is key to this type of learning.”

To Reyes, feminism is a way to be braver in the world: “I’m here to challenge myself and test my boundaries. I’m ready to have my world view turned upside down.”