Guidelines on Maintaining Accessible and Safe Spaces in Clubs and Societies
Many students face obstacles to participating in student life which stem from their need to practice good self care. These obstacles are often non-obvious to those who do not face them, and can, in extremis, mean that a student must disengage from a particular event or society if they are to practice good self care. These guidelines exist to advise student societies on how to help their members practice self care without needing to disengage from events or societies.
Nature of the Problem
Students face different degrees of risk when dealing with sensitive or controversial discussion material. This is largely because of the difference in experience students have. Because of particular, traumatic experiences in a student’s past, or because of repetitive experiences in their lives, students will be more or less likely to face prohibitive levels of distress when they encounter the same stimulus. As this stimulus could be anything it is impossible to predict every instance, but some instances can be predicted and we can take steps to help students manage their wellbeing when these predictable examples do come up.
Content Warnings inform your members or attendees that certain kinds of material are contained in the article you are presenting, or are likely to come up in a discussion. Their role is to help students make informed decisions about how and under what conditions they want to engage with your society’s events or publications. They often take the form of the words ‘Content Warning’, or initials ‘CW’, presented before keywords that inform the reader what to expect. On news reports, an anchor will often say ‘the following report contains images some viewers might find distressing’ – at its heart, this is what a Content Warning is.
Consider how you arrange rooms you use for events. If it is a lecture, film screening, or similar event (everyone seated, facing the same way), consider having the exit behind the audience, so that if a student wishes to step out during a part they find uncomfortable they might do so discretely. Make sure that seating is well enough spaced out that a student can leave their seat easily.
Sometimes the way rooms you use are laid out will make this impractical, but where possible, (and where it will not get in the way of other concerns, such as fire safety) you should consider arranging rooms to avoid these problems.
If an event is likely to involve discussion of sensitive material, think about how you can use the timetable to help members practice good self care. One option is to designate a particular portion of the discussion for material that is sensitive, or which merits a content warning. Ask members who wish to raise such issues to hold their questions for that portion. If the event will include a great deal of sensitive material, consider having regular breaks throughout the event. This can allow students who have found the discussion taxing to collect themselves, or someone who decides that they do not wish to continue at the event to leave discretely.
Discussion and Q&As:
Discussion fora can sometimes be judgemental, or even hostile environments. Ensuring that such events or fora are well chaired or moderated helps to avoid the problems outlined above. Requiring members to raise a hand if they have a question, or raise a finger if they have a follow-up helps avoid the conversation being dominated by the most confident. If the majority of questions that have been asked in an event have been asked by students of a similar profile, consider empowering your chair to not take questions on a first-come-first-served basis, in order to include those groups who have not been well represented.