University facilitates brave spaces for dialogue

University facilitates brave spaces for dialogue

Students who attended the first Brave Spaces event got the opportunity to share their stories and perspectives on racial injustice in America—all while showing off their ’Cane pride.

By Mike Piacentino

Students who attended the first Brave Spaces event got the opportunity to share their stories and perspectives on racial injustice in America—all while showing off their ’Cane pride.

University facilitates brave spaces for dialogue

By Mike Piacentino
During a time of physical distancing and face coverings, students are turning to online discussions to express their feelings, share their experiences, and call for change

Across the world, demonstrators are taking to the streets to demand an end to systemic and institutionalized racism that has plagued our society for centuries. After the video showing the death of George Floyd made its way to social media, protests that started in Minnesota quickly spread to cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and even London and Berlin.

Watching these events unfold on social media and during countless news broadcasts can be both empowering but also distressing. Especially during this time of physical distancing and limited social contact with others, finding meaningful connections and support can be difficult. However, the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs knows that students who are provided a space to share their opinions and reflect on their experiences are more likely to feel supported and respond to their emotions in healthy and productive ways.

“It has definitely been a challenging and stressful time for our students. Many of them are processing information by the minute; most of which is coming from their social media platforms,” said Chris Clarke, the office’s director. “As an office, our goal has been to provide constructive, continual, and progressive spaces for our students, faculty, and staff. It isn't the only step, but a necessary first one. I am extremely pleased with the way our office has quickly responded and am hopeful that these spaces will produce actionable outcomes for our University."

Almost immediately after some of the earliest protests, MSA hosted Discussing America Today, an online forum co-facilitated with the University of Miami Counseling Center to provide a space for student dialogue and community building. With more than 150 participants from across the campus community, MSA knew that their work could not stop with this singular event.

“The world around us is so chaotic right now, and it can be hard to watch. To push forward as a campus and a larger community, we must understand each other’s perspectives and experiences,” said Kennedy Robinson, the office’s assistant director. “MSA has been a hidden treasure for so many students - both students of color and not – so we knew that our office could serve as a resource during this difficult time.”

In addition to Discussing America Today and the Black State of the Union address that took place on Monday via Zoom, MSA developed its Brave Spaces dialogue series to provide continuous online opportunities for support, discussion, and education. Each event focuses on a specific topic and is facilitated by various University faculty and staff members as well as student leaders.

"These events are so important for students to participate in because they are a way for us to bond with one another, create empathy, and have great dialogue between people of the same walks of life and different walks of life,” said Alexandrea Masocco, a rising senior studying biology, religion, and healthcare and a student facilitator with MSA. “Social change starts with learning about yourself and others, and that is what Brave Spaces is all about."

The first session, which took place on Tuesday, invited attendees to share their stories and personal perspectives on racial injustice in America. Future topics include how to be an ally to the black community, empathy and compassion, and how to turn advocacy into action. In addition to the in-person conversations, participants receive a guide directing them to various resources for further education and action.

“This will not be just a ‘band-aid initiative’ nor just a space to vent,” added Robinson. “We are listening and want to put things into action. But we first need to start by creating a space where students can share their stories and ask questions.”

Robinson said she is encouraged by the countless individuals who have reached out to her personally asking how they can support black students on campus and the larger community. She says that understanding yourself and your privilege is a necessary first step in the right direction.

“One of the best things you can do is to examine where you are at and how you feel. We hope our Brave Spaces events provide the arena for not only meaningful reflection and dialogue – but perhaps most importantly, a space for active listening.”

All members of the University community are invited to attend Brave Spaces sessions taking place throughout the summer. Pre-registration is required and details are available at https://tinyurl.com/MSABraveSpace. Learn more about MSA’s other programs and services on its website or by following its various social media channels. Students can also sign up to attend the office’s online office hours.