Intersectional safety in the classroom

The importance of safety goes underestimated in the art class where being radical is encouraged.

In university, especially in a place like CSM, we are encouraged to challenge our thought processes, but not so much that the institution feels challenged and under attack.

There have been several incidences that I have personally experienced in the classroom where I felt unsafe, and I would call this nothing but intersectional failure.

Intersectional failure means when systematic oppression fails a person who is a part of several marginalised groups including sex, gender, class and race. For example, I am a woman, I identify as queer, I am working class and brown. And the system in which we live in (heteropatriarchal white supremacy and capitalist) is not in my favour because of the marginalised groups I am a part of.

But how can a classroom setting be set up as a safe space of learning for people of intersections?

This past two years at university, I have had several experiences that proved to me this failure exists. Incidences where I felt unsafe in terms of my gender, sexuality, race and even class. In these incidences, none of my peers stood up for me, neither did the tutors. I had to defend myself and my community, which is not a situation I should have been in as a student.

I am here to study, not to educate.

I have felt that there’s a failure on the part of tutors/lecturers to create a safe space. Certain discussions can  trigger deep emotions for some students and tutors sometimes fail to acknowledge this fact and encourage these discussions.

For example recently, we had a discussion in class that led to discussing sexual abuse, which for me personally is a triggering subject. I felt unsafe and attacked by several peers, which led me to think that it was the tutor’s responsibility to create a safe space.

But when these safe spaces don’t exist, how does it affect our education as folk who experience intersections.

Racism has a been a big part of my experience at university this past year. It has been brought up in class discussions which again were not handled well by the tutors, but also there have been incidences where a racist comment was made and no one stood up for people of colour, and again it was my responsibility to stand up for myself and my community, which I can argue is not my responsibility. It is an experienced fact that white folk take criticism about political incorrectness from fellow white folk and not people of colour. Because if we stand up for ourselves it looks like : “ an over reaction” and we “need to calm down”.

I am not suggesting we shouldn’t defend ourselves and communities, but what I’m trying to explain is that when in a learning environment, especially a creative learning environment which can leave many feeling vulnerable, it is more difficult to defend your rights when no one else is standing up for you.

The perception might be that art schools are queer friendly. However, in reality, it only seems to be the “mainstream gay culture” that is praised. Queer politics and trans rights are ignored most of the time as they are about real people’s day to day life, and not just glamorous fashionable lifestyles advertised in the mainstream gay culture.

In art University, there sometimes feels like there’s a separation between the art University and outside world politics. However, this is not true, the political failures that exist outside of a University, very much exist inside the classrooms. These failures are not to be discussed as if they only exist outside, which is what tends to happen. These failures are failing us every day when they are being treated as myths.

Where intersectional failures have not been addressed, it has created feelings of frustration and hopelessness for many students, which in turn, leads to them leaving university or leaving the course in general.

We easily talk about the lack of diversity on the teaching level, but if the institution is failing to take care of students who are in the minority, the institution will become even more exclusive, and only a place for those who can survive in a society that works in their favour.


Image source: Dead poets society