Notes from WATERtea:

“Creating Brave Spaces”

with Laura Carr-Pries, Tammie Honore-Reaux, Damaris Gutierrez, and Biqiao Yin

Tuesday, April 6, 2021, 2pm ET


Welcome one and all to WATER’s April 2021 tea. We are led today by a group of graduate students from George Mason University who are studying Facilitation Skills at the Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution. A special welcome to these four colleagues who will be introduced shortly. Our own former WATER intern Laura Carr-Pries connected us with her colleagues who will help us to consider “Creating Brave Spaces,” those hard conversations that we tend to avoid or deflect.

WATER programs are aimed at supporting and igniting social change. Whether in theology, ethics, or ritual, WATER’s efforts are geared to bring together solid academic/scholarly data with the activist commitments of our Alliance. Laura and her colleagues are taking a class in which they are learning how to facilitate these kinds of delicate, often uncomfortable, but oh so necessary conversations. This resonates very well with our efforts to open spaces for dialogue and to include people with attention to the priority needs of those who have been marginalized.

Laura Carr-Pries came to WATER last year, several months before Covid. She was a good colleague in the office until, for reasons of Covid, the Mennonite Voluntary Service closed its DC house for the season and she went back home to Waterloo, Ontario where she worked with us through the summer. In the fall, she started the graduate program at George Mason University at the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution concentrating in Social Justice and Peacebuilding.

Damaris Gutierrez is a second-year dual master’s candidate in the School of Social Work and Conflict Analysis & Resolution. Damaris currently works at George Mason’s New Student and Family Programs where she plans extended orientation for incoming freshmen. Damaris also works part time at Artemis House-Fairfax County’s only 24-hour emergency shelter for domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and stalking. Damaris hopes to open her own clinical practice one day with a portion dedicated to serving undocumented immigrants.

Biqiao Yin is a first-year graduate student in the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution’s Master of Science program at George Mason University. Biqiao has lived in China, England, and the United States growing up. Coming from a multicultural background, she is passionate about bridging eastern and western cultures, and exploring the concept of identity in overcoming differences and resolving conflicts.

Tammie Honore-Reaux is a first-year graduate student pursuing her second Master’s degree through the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution’s Master of Science program at George Mason University. As a teacher and citizen of the world, learning how to effectively communicate and creating safe spaces for communication has been a driving force in Tammie’s 28 years in education and community activism.


Today’s agenda:

Introduction to the activity and first discussion prompt

Breakout rooms

Reconvene to discuss the first prompt/breakout room

Second prompt

Breakout rooms

Reconvene and discuss the second prompt/breakout room

Concluding remarks

We want to explore how to have challenging conversations, both in the highly polarized context we find ourselves in, and how to talk about challenging topics. We want to enter into this by thinking about and exploring the multiple identities we all hold. Our personal identities often come into play during hard conversations. They may feel restricted, or we might feel limited to express certain pieces of how we identify. We want to explore the multiple identities we all hold as a way to consider how we enter into these conversations and how pieces of our identity contribute to these conversations.

As we have this conversation, we want to create a brave space together. The concept of a ‘brave space’ comes out of the field of social work as an alternative to the concept of ‘safe space’. It’s an attempt to realize that challenging conversations won’t be safe. There will always be an element of risk and challenge that will lead to some level of discomfort and safety doesn’t necessarily fit into that concept of challenge and discomfort. So, rather than creating a safe space for today’s tea, we invite you to this brave space.

[Here is an article that goes more in depth about safe space vs. brave space.]

We acknowledge that the conversation might be uncomfortable at parts. It may challenge you in some way, but we hope that the challenge, and, if you choose to enter into a risky conversation, can come from a place of mutual respect and desire to learn. We hope we can create a brave space, have a conversation about this, and consider how these conversations impact us all personally.

First task:

Make a list of +/- 6-8 words to describe how you identify. Don’t worry if you are struggling to come up with that many, and if you have an outpouring of words, you don’t need to stop at 8. Take a few minutes to think of your list, and then we go into breakout rooms to share your list and think about these two questions as you go into this discussion:

  • In this process, what surprised you about your list?
  • Was there anything you found particularly difficult – either as you wrote your list or as you discussed your list in your breakout room?

[Breakout rooms]


  • Tension between the “harder” parts of our identities and the “prosocial” ones
    • Some of our identities can feel depleting; desire to focus on the “good” ones
    • How to integrate those challenging identities with the more positive ones
    • Looking for more digestible ways to express who we are; tamping down some of our identities
  • Some noticed they did not put race as an identifier, even though it’s critical in this multi-racial society
    • indicates the culture people are coming from, growing up as white women and changes how see the world
    • Interesting our choices made in which identities see in ourselves – choosing between social, political, racial, ethnic, etc. identifiers
  • Depending on the conversation, changes in what identity comes to the forefront of our minds and which identity will affect the conversation
    • g. Didn’t think to put “heterosexual” as it’s the majority/default, so doesn’t feel like a big part of identity, but if the conversation was different, it might have come to the forefront
    • The environments and settings we’re in can dictate how we identify ourselves
    • Even though put down some identifiers, didn’t share them all with people not known to them – doesn’t put certain identities out first
    • In brave spaces, what are we willing to share initially about who we are?
    • How we identify ourselves on personal and social levels can shift even if they all shape our attitudes and perspectives
  • Self-exploration is central to our growth as individuals, our relationships with others, and our ability to promote equity in these conversations

Second task:

Narrow your list to one or two core identities – the ones through which all your other identities stem from or the ones you feel most connected to at this stage in your life.

We are not asking you to discard your other identities as they are all important to who you are. The aversion you may feel to crossing something off your list, the resistance to relinquishing certain parts of our identities, are as important as the identities themselves. Our attachment to these words we let define us can be what make us vulnerable and introduces conflict but ultimately helps us to create a brave space.

This is not easy and you may be unable to narrow it down to one or two choices. But the internal exploration of your core identity and the external expression of those choices can provide valuable insight into your perception of who you believe yourself to be. As we work to create and participate in diverse and democratic environments, we need to understand how our own and others’ identities affect our lives and our interactions with each other.

In breakout rooms, respond to the prompt: “if you could only pick one or two of the identities, which would you choose and why?”

[Breakout rooms]


  • What did you notice in your group as you were reducing these lists? Did you find anything challenging?
  • Our identities can hold many other identities, some falling under others in the multi-level roles we play and identities we hold
    • g. being a healer encompasses being a feminist in promoting the wellness and betterment of women and healing from patriarchy
    • our identities can be a guide for how one walks through the world
    • going past the normal parameters of identity and enriched the concept itself
  • Main identity changes with life changes, as we go through gains and losses
    • Identity is a fluid concept; it isn’t embedded in stone
    • We put people in boxes, but how that identity appears and what it means to us can change; its significance can fade or grow
    • In group, people’s identities so impacted by recent events, selected in part because of the circumstances around themselves had changed when in the past that identifier wouldn’t have been relevant or even in existence
      • Identity determined outside of ourselves
    • Shifting identities = a sign of growth
    • Some identities show up differently and evolve over time, but their essence won’t change, such as race (and gender, for some)
  • What was your experience like to share your identity or to hear others? How did that impact your own sense of identity? Did it raise other questions?

What this has to do with difficult conversations:

Usually, conversations are difficult because of contentious content. The topic usually exposes some type of vulnerability that we’re not willing to share with others. There are heightened feelings involved that challenge our deeply-held identities.

Having a conversation about our personal identities and having them challenged can be one of the most difficult. Conflicts have the potential to challenge our sense of self and legitimacy. Identity is the deepest level of that. When conflict get to the core of who we are, the ability to have a conversation that involves our identity becomes challenging. By having this conversation today, we hope to build our capacity to navigate these conversations and interpersonal relationships.

In doing this exercise, have you found a role that identity has played within a conflict experience?

  • Identity conflict in being a woman in a “man’s” job, but being retired, that conflict is history; sloughed off that struggle of maintaining space in that situation
    • The ability to walk away from certain conflicts or roles in which identity plays a large role
  • A space can deplete energy after being so focused on a certain identity and doing so much work surrounding that
  • Identifying in a way that is seen as at odds with others’ identity e.g. being a progressive member of a largely conservative family

Any ideas on how to create a brave space moving forward?

  • Terms of engagement for dialogue to learn people’s stories and validate
  • Sharing a vulnerability at the outset may facilitate a more honest conversation
  • Having set a precedence for open listening and knowledge that the space is a dialogue
  • Having an ally in the situation, someone who will have your back in validating and supporting your identity and your experience based on that identity

Take-away question: What have you learned about your identity that you would want to tell a younger version of yourself?

Thank you to all who were here today, participating in making this a brave space in being vulnerable, validating each other, and laying the groundwork for difficult conversations.


Mary E. Hunt, concluding

“To be brave, you have to start ‘braving.’” – to paraphrase Mary Daly

I recognize that we at WATER regularly engage in brave, challenging conversations, almost taking them for granted. We learn from each other what that means and how to do it, and now we take that knowledge to other spaces. As something to continue thinking about, after we gain a better-understanding of ourselves, how do we go forth and take these difficult conversations elsewhere?

Warm thanks to Laura, Tammie, Damaris and Biqiao. We are edified by your input and wish you all the best on your work in peace-making.

We are adjourned for today with gratitude to all and wishing you brave conversations.