Creating Black Survivor Spaces On Campus

Creating Black-centred survivor spaces can be a great way to cater to the Black student population because it shows an understanding of the nuances of Black survivorship and a commitment to giving them the respect they deserve. Historically, people of colour have experienced hypersexualization and othering that resulted in innumerable instances of abuse and trauma, the aftershocks of which remain in our broader Western culture today. Intergenerational trauma, combined with prevailing notions of White supremacy have created an environment where today Black folks continue to be targeted and experience higher rates of gender based violence (GVB) compared to their white counterparts. In recognition of  these realities, the creation of survivor space focused on healing through means outside of the systems that serve to harm specific subgroups gives Black survivors an opportunity to seek justice in a way that brings peace instead of meeting the expectations of more traditionally established routes of GBV response.

The most obvious first step in creating inclusive and representative spaces is hiring Black folk to leadership roles that support gender based violence education, prevention, and healing. When Black survivors are connected with Black support people it can provide a space in which conversations about microaggressions and the nuances of seeking justice within the Black community may be skipped altogether. This provides the survivor with the opportunity to present in whichever way they want, without fear of judgement or “playing into” stereotypes and instead the focus can be on healing in whichever way the survivor chooses. Additionally, there is the element of potential for shared experience in the aforementioned intergenerational trauma which also contributes to a deeper layer of understanding that may create a more comfortable space for the survivor to seek support. Hiring new staff people is not always a viable option so below are some alternatives to consider:

  • Creating internships or student positions for Black students who are doing or are interested in this work.

  • Supporting pre existing black student groups with the resources and space to be able to do their work more effectively and reach wider audiences.

  • Consider creating partnerships with nearby institutions that may have a more developed Black survivor program that you can refer people to or try piloting at your own institution.

When considering the structures already in place to support survivors, there is room for integrating some of the fundamentals of alternative or transformative justice measures into pre-existing frameworks. These adjustments may provide a more inviting space to those who are apprehensive about seeking more mainstream routes to justice. This can include:

The first step to creating these spaces involves ensuring that all involved in gender based violence response have extensive training in understanding Black survivorship, what sets Black survivors apart from others, and cultural competency. This improves the chances that when a Black survivor discloses the potential nuances involved in their story the support people have a deep and pre-existing understanding of where the survivor may be coming from. In the same vein, creating an environment of mutual respect and making the survivor aware of the measures being taken to reduce the power imbalances that are inherently at play in these scenarios is an important step in creating and maintaining trust. Recognizing the potential for making mistakes and establishing that all corrections made will be taken in stride is another important point that speaks to the fact that often Black people are placed in the position of both educator and soother to the White ego. Finally, addressing the potential for inherent bias against alternative methods for healing and working towards undoing these biases will serve to create space for and encourage survivors to explore these options without pressure to pursue them. We need to remember the intricacies of the Black experience and not generalize Blackness to equate to trauma but instead recognize the potential for those traumas to exist and shine light on paths that have always existed that may lead a survivor to the same goal that traditional routes to justice aim to achieve.

As we embark on uplifting, creating, and supporting Black survivor spaces and the alternative methodologies that exist within them, we must be cognizant of the fact that none of these “new” workshops or programs exist without the contribution and foundational work that these initiatives lie on top of. Earlier we highlighted the idea of intergenerational trauma but that must be recognized alongside previous generations of resilience. Black people have been surviving and supporting themselves via community for an extraordinary length of time and we can offer similarly structured workshops, courses, and programs to Black survivors as they cope with the traumas of gender based violence in a modern era.


Suggested Citation: Fullwood, Casandra., Magaji, Vatineh. (2020, November). Creating Black Survivor Spaces on Campus. Courage to Act.

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