Thinking about the emotional safety of our learning spaces

Thursday, June 29, 2023
by Leanne Racicot

Thinking about the emotional safety of our learning spaces

On Thursday June 28, three people were stabbed on the UWaterloo campus. I am comforted to know that all victims are recovering physically and I wish them well on their emotional recovery journey as well.

What is unsettling is this event happened in a lecture hall, while one of my colleagues was teaching a Gender Studies class. I respect our institution's line that motives of the perpetrator are still unclear and I believe in patience for truth. However the connection with the current political climate on Turtle Island is hard to ignore.

I am presenting a talk titled "Expanding Lab Safety: Using visual cues to encourage emotional safety" at ChemEd next month and was working on my slides Wednesday night. The idea behind the talk was that I use signage in my lab and on my person to signal that I am allied to causes that visibly would not be linked to my outward appearance and want to include a space free of discrimination as part of the safety culture of my laboratory space.

In Chemistry, we frequently evaluate students' performance while in the lab and being scrutinized in such a way can be stressful for students, especially those who are part of historically excluded groups. I want to take time to share in advance my draft of slides I was thinking of. The idea of avoiding performative allyship was already front of mind, and I was framing it as ensuring I am providing a space that is safe specifically for 2SLGBTQIA+ students and TAs, but also Black, Indigenous and Racialized persons working in my laboratory.

I am also thinking about how making this emotional safety practice louder can serve as solidarity tool for my colleagues in Gender studies, and how we as a community can make our learning spaces more trauma-aware. I want to extend gratitude to extraordinary young scholars part of my institution who are leading the way. 

If you are so inclined, I am linking my current slide deck on google drive. I made commenting possible and would love to hear your thoughts. I have not completed my full talk and hope I can reign in what is currently a complex mix of ramblings about lived experiences, things I am trying to achieve and some screaming into the void about the powerlessness I feel about the structural barriers I face to turn my teaching into the scientifically creative space I wish it could become.