Editorial: Create a culture of safe spaces

“Everyone wants to be seen and heard.”

This pithy sentence sums up the arenas of contestations and counter-responses transforming public spaces that have an impact on mental wellness.

According to a Nov. 30, 2021 post on the blog mentalhealthph.org, Sci Torres and Maria Emcel Mesa discussed the challenges confronting stakeholders who aim to transform private and public spaces into spheres where every person is secure about revealing his or her individuality without being judged and harassed.

In 2019, the passage of Republic Act (RA) 11313, also known as the Safe Spaces Act or the “Bawal Bastos Act,” recognizes the human right to equality, security and safety in online platforms and public spaces.

Translating RA 11313 from the intent of the law into actualities involves not just institutions and organizations but groups and persons to advocate and create a culture that is inclusive in respecting an individual’s dignity and making room for uniqueness and differences.

Discrimination, harassment and hate threaten, isolate and target individuals in schools, places of work, public places such as streets and public utility vehicles and digital space, particularly in social media.

Safe spaces highlight respect, openness, dialogue and negotiation in the face of personal and social differences, which are inevitable in the face of diversity and self-expression.

Conflicts among persons cannot be avoided but should be steered towards the articulation of an individual’s needs and perspectives and move to negotiations and resolution for co-existence.

It is also essential to think of safe spaces as a network of spheres for enunciation and hybridity. For youths, schools represent possibilities and challenges. Entering the first year of undergraduate studies at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu, Arturo was encouraged by the acceptance of her classmates and teachers to express views, aspirations and subjectivity, including her sexual orientation and gender identity.

Growing up in a conservative family and community, Arturo found not only independence while studying away from home but also the safe space in the university to vent and explore what he was repressed for years from expressing and exploring.

Angel had a different reaction to the liberal humanities education of UP. Made uncomfortable by a sensitive class discussion, she avoided discussing her reservations with the professor and complained instead to the administration.

In a forum participated by university constituents, the exchanges of opinions focused on the need to balance the unavoidable challenge in learning to openly and maturely discuss relevant subjects stigmatized as taboos, such as sexuality and violence, with the responsibility of respecting the sensitivity of persons who are subject to the classroom imbalances of power between student and teacher.

In safe spaces, a person must not only feel secure and unrestricted in self-articulation but also be empowered to negotiate with other persons of opposing perspectives to resolve differences through civility and discourse.

Safe spaces on campus refer to the multi-stakeholder creation of a culture where students and teachers normalize ventilation and dialogue, instead of uncritical conformity and repression; promotion of inclusivity and self-esteem, instead of judgment and ostracism; and trust in the processes of communication and negotiation, instead of bias and discrimination.

By boosting the identities of the young, schools nurture the character of individuals with lifelong impact on their personal and domestic spheres, such as the home, the workplace and the community.

RA 11313 lays down the foundation but people are needed to create multiple and overlapping spheres that sustain the culture of safe spaces that will transform society.