Admin offer a friendly ear with new program

by Kaylee Johnston / Beacon Correspondent • March 1, 2017

Each of the 12 active listeners had nine hours of training.
Each of the 12 active listeners had nine hours of training.

Emerson administrators are training to be good listeners to create an open space for discussion about diversity issues.

The Brave Space Project was modeled after the Safe Space Project implemented on campuses across the country to help LGBTQ students struggling with bullying.

This broader program trains active listeners to discuss LGBTQ issues, religion, politics, spirituality, and other topics of diversity. Emerson community members are encouraged to discuss any of these topics with Brave Space listeners to further their understanding of the topics.

Brave Space active listener Sylvia Spears, vice president of the office of diversity and inclusion, said the program is about learning to listen and advise in a different format instead of turning people to alternative resources to handle their concerns.

“This particular program provides a slightly different niche for people providing support to members of the community who are making sense of identity, not necessarily in the context of a conflict, but who are just making sense of what it means to live and be in the world and be of a certain or particular identity,” Spears said.

Each of the active listeners in the 12 member pilot group have 9 hours of training, spread across 3 days over a 2-month time span. Once their initial training is completed, the listeners are given a sticker to hang near their workspace to show the Emerson community that they are an official “active listener.”

After the initial training, Amelio said the volunteers are required to take part in six additional hours of training each year offered through the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to maintain their skills. They will also have full group meetings a minimum of once every quarter to discuss any issues or concerns they are experiencing.

Although training is the first step to creating an open space for conversation, maintaining a level of trust is the key element to a successful project, said Kayce McKee, freshman journalism student.

“Hopefully there is a level of trust that the students have with [the listeners] and if there is this trust, then conversations will be a lot more personal which could benefit their learning and how they retain information,” McKee said.

Although the group trained in this active listening program are all administrators and staff, Amelio encourages students and faculty to apply if they are interested in becoming a Brave Space listener. Any Emerson community member can apply; they just need to fill out an application including information about why they are interested in the program, and provide a minimum of one reference from someone in the Emerson community.

“What we plan to do in the future is open it up more broadly,” Amelio said. “Our goal is … we’d love to have 100’s and 1000’s of these stickers all over campus to show that people have been trained to be better and supportive listeners of each other.”

Spears said the goal of this project is to branch out from the typical process of just giving students resources that relate to the topic they want to discuss. Instead, they can learn to discuss the topics outright.

“There are times and places where, even in these conversations, it might be appropriate to say, ‘Here’s this resource,’” Spears said. “But what we’re finding is that the premise of saying, ‘How can I help? What do you need?’ ... validates who they are as opposed to unintentionally contributing to things being done to people.”

Amelio hopes this program will be another outlet for members of the Emerson community to understand how to have discussions about diversity while understanding their own identity and how it impacts their lives, as well as the lives of others.

“What we’re trying to teach everyone here is that we want there to be lively discourse around different beliefs, it has to be done in a respectful manner,” Amelio said. “Isn’t that what college is supposed to be? A place where you can have a discussion and disagree and that’s okay. It’s not a counseling service; it’s just another place to talk.”