Section 2: Considerations for Facilitators
Understanding Your Social Location as a Facilitator
The term social location is often used by facilitators working in the anti-violence sector (Baker et al, 2015; Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses, 2018; Simpson, 2009). The concept of social location comes from the field of sociology and describes the groups that people belong to because of their place or position in society. An individual’s social location is defined by a combination of factors such as gender, race, social class, age, ability, religion, sexual orientation, and geographic location. This makes social location unique to each individual – no two individuals will have the exact same social location.
Social location is important because it strongly influences our identity, or our sense of self, and how we see the world. When it comes to the topic of sexual violence, we all have different experiences, values, beliefs, attitudes, strengths, and vulnerabilities. It can be helpful to try to understand your social location in order to be able to facilitate across all these differences. Here are some questions to help with that process:
- What is your social location relative to your audience?
- Based on your social location, in what ways are you able to and unable to relate to the experiences in your audience?
- In what ways, or through what aspects of your social location, do you experience privilege? (You can think of privilege as an advantage that you have because you belong to a certain group, e.g., being male or middle-class). In what ways could this impact your role as a facilitator?
- In what ways, or through what aspects of your social location, do you experience oppression? (A simple way of understanding oppression is to see it as a lack of privilege or disadvantages from belonging to a certain group. Keep in mind that multiple factors affect our social location so we can experience both privilege and oppression simultaneously). In what ways could this impact your role as a facilitator?
- How do you think your social location affects your approach to education and the way your work with people?
- How do you think your social location affects your approach to the topic of sexual violence?
To facilitate across difference means to be grounded in an awareness of your own social location. As a facilitator, you will want to recognize the diversity of social locations of your audience and to value the knowledge and experience learners bring with them. At a practical level, this understanding can help you raise issues related to sexual violence in a way that will create a safer space for all learners. An awareness of your own social location allows you to engage in conversations about how social location influences experiences of sexual violence and provides a foundation for unpacking assumptions, championing new ideas, and promoting values central to creating safer campuses.
Your sexual orientation and gender identity are important points of reflection as a facilitator. If you can and feel safe doing so, disclosing your sexual orientation and gender identity in a way that is thoughtful and respectful may help in creating a safe space for gender and sexual minorities by signalling that you are aware of your social location. Be precise in your language, for example:
“I am a straight, cisgender woman who is neurodivergent and I am aware that the privileges and disadvantages associated with sexual orientation and gender identity mean that I experience the world in a very different way than some of you might.” is preferable to “I’m a woman.”
For examples of precise language relating to sexual orientation and gender identity, please see Section 2: Gender & LGBTQ2SIA+ Inclusive Language.
Individuals with a background in anti-violence work, human service work (i.e., social work, child and youth care), health services (i.e., nursing), or those that have experience and knowledge in issues related to social justice, criminology, and mental health are well suited to facilitating training on sexual violence. If resources are available, you will ideally want to have facilitators from a range of social locations deliver training related to sexual violence prevention and response. Having facilitators of diverse backgrounds is important in creating safe, inclusive, and welcoming learning environments for diverse learners.
For example, when delivering to student groups, a peer-to-peer facilitation model can help to increase credibility of the training as well as have other benefits such as empowerment of facilitators (Hines & Palm Reed, 2015; McMahon et al., 2013; McMahon et al., 2014; Turner & Shepard, 1999). Transgender, non-binary, Two-Spirit and other queer people benefit from learning about sex and sexual violence from facilitators who share their personal lived experiences and have developed an analysis of the negative impacts of systemic queerphobia on LGBTQ2SIA+ people.
With mixed audiences, whenever possible, co-facilitation teams should include people of differing social locations and experiences. For example, a transgender or non-binary facilitator could be paired with a cisgender/heterosexual facilitator. This is beneficial for two reasons: transgender, queer, and non-binary audiences may connect more and feel safer with a facilitator of similar lived experience and the other facilitator can carry the burden of diffusing problematic situations that may arise from (sometimes well-intentioned) queerphobic comments. In short, a pairing of non-queer and queer facilitators may create safe spaces for queer learners and facilitators (Rensburg & Smith, 2020). In general, a diversity of facilitators demonstrates that sexual violence is an issue relevant to people of all genders and social locations (Moynihan et al., 2012; Roy et al., 2013).