April 26, 2024

Finding a Place to Rest: Fostering Brave Spaces to Find and Utilize Our Voices

By Darius Phelps, Assistant Director of Programs

As professionals in higher education, it is important that we focus on bringing the (re)humanization and heart work back to the field of higher education, allowing our students, especially those in online programs, to feel a sense of belonging. My own teaching philosophy is heavily rooted in the belief that learning truly begins when we acknowledge the fact that things need to change, especially when it comes to transforming our instruction to foster a brave space for our students to both find and utilize their voices. bell hooks (1994) reiterates that learning sometimes involves pain and diving into uncharted territory alongside fostering dialogue. Teachers can lead this movement by showing up as their authentic selves, showing vulnerability, and peeling back the layers of what have been considered the “traditional ways of teaching.”

Image of Dr. Marcelle Mentor presenting over zoom. On the left is one of Dr. Mentor's slides with an image of author bell hooks and quote from their book "All About Love: New Visions". On the right is a zoom screen of Dr. Mentor (presents as a woman with short silver hair and square, black glasses) presenting.

This Spring, I was joined by Dr. Marcelle Mentor of Teachers College, Columbia University in conversation to discuss how to foster a brave space in online classrooms in order to evoke transformative learning. During her interactive and intimate talk, Marcelle posed the following questions to the participants: 

  1. Where do I belong as my teaching self? How do I fit into the school community I am (practice) teaching at? 

  2. How did I belong as a student in my K-12 schooling? 

  3. How did I belong to my Graduate / Teacher programs or in my current school? 

  4. DO I belong? 

  5. What are the issues around legitimacy that come up for me? Vulnerability?

  6. Do I feel free in our belonging? 

  7. How do we make sure we create and SUSTAIN spaces of belonging for ourselves, and also for our students?


Rooted in the work of Dr. Cynthia B. Dillard and her text Learning to (re)member the Things We've Learned to Forget: Endarkened Feminisms, Spirituality, & the Sacred Nature of (re)search & Teaching, Marcelle reminded us of the beauty that can be born when we step outside of our comfort zones and really be perceptive in our classrooms. She emphasized that by opening up ourselves and sharing our stories of triumph, struggle, and vulnerability, faculty can cultivate a brave space where critical thinking and conversations are fostered. As the presentation came to an end, Marcelle left us with two questions for contemplation:

  • How do we, as educators, represent the embodied realities to our students?
  • More so, how do we integrate this into the way we teach?

It is through both restorative and critical pedagogical practices that educators can cultivate a brave space where students can, genuinely, feel they have space for their respective truths and are able to find solace within the home of our programs here at the Center for Publishing and Applied Liberal Arts (PALA). We look forward to continuing the conversation on building true inclusive spaces for our faculty, staff, and students in Fall 2024 with more to come! 


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