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Racism and Anti-Racism in America

Responding to Triggers

Building off the introduction to dialogue as a strategy for bridging differences in, “Dialogue in Action,” this video provides some strategies for navigating conflict or triggers that may raise the emotional tenor of a dialogue

Excerpt From


So we do know in your dialogues, things weren't always easy. Conflict I'm sure always came up. Conflict comes in many forms; interpersonal, intrapersonal like dissonance, and sometime, intragroup. You all probably worked with a lot of all of those forms of conflict. One of the probably simplest, but then hardest forms of conflict comes in the form of triggers or these hot moments, or these moments where something is sad or something's done that really pushes someone's buttons and, there's a strong emotional reaction to it. So as facilitators, what did you do when triggers occurred in your dialogue? My experience with working with young people in general. SYD, other programs is, I think an everyday normal response to triggers. For me personally, and maybe for other people, there's confrontation, telling the person what they're saying wrong, it can be silence. I'm not going to say anything about this. I'm just going to be, but the thing about working with young people, I feel that you have to address it. But the challenge isn't in addressing it, it's addressing it in a way that's not confrontational, in a way that's not going to make them upset. Because for the most part, I feel young people really may not know what they're doing and what they're saying, and you don't want to attack them for that. So in those situations, I tend to go for rationalization. If a young person does use a trigger, I try to rationalize it. Okay, they might have been taught by their family to think this. They might have been shown somewhere that using this word was okay, using this phrase was okay. Now, we have to discuss and unpack that. It's a very tricky situation because young people when you're trying to have these vulnerable conversations, can shut down immediately. When they feel that they're being attacked or when they feel that they're being confronted for what they are saying. Yeah. So being able to handle a trigger from young person in a way that won't offend them, but push them to that learning edge, push them to that, "I'm a little bit out of comfort, but I'm okay zone." Is crucial to letting the conversation continue. I appreciate that. I think oftentimes, it can be seductive to want to shame or embarrass the person for what they've said, or what they've done, but where's the learning in that? Right. Probably reduces the possibility for there to be any learning. [inaudible] Yeah. I think something I had to realize being a part of my role as a facilitator, was not only taking care of my participants, but taking care of my co-facilitator. So something that kept coming up in our dialogue space was my facilitator, my co would ask the question. No one would hear her, then no one would actually be listening to what she had been saying. What identities did she hold? My co-facilitator was a black woman in that space. We were in a black and Arab student dialogue. So she would ask the question and no one would answer it, and I would repeat the same question, and then I would receive all these answers. So I had been aware of this pattern kept coming up, and then I really felt my co host energy and frustration. So that was a moment when we decided to have a dialogue about the dialogue, to actually address group dynamics. So that was a good space for me to be like, "Hey, I'm noticing this pattern coming up in our dialogue. Is anyone else noticing it too?" So that's when other practice students started like naming that they had been noticing it. We then just talked about it and how that relates then to larger stereotypes of black woman in that space, and how they're not seen as intellectual and are dismissed. So we had started to tackle our own internalized stereotypes in that space and racism, and anti-blackness. That led to a really fulfilling conversation that moving forward, people were much more holding themselves accountable and actually trying to listen to what's being said and trying to recognize all the work she had been putting in, and giving her the credit she deserved. So identifying that microaggression, naming it, but then bringing that into the conversation instead of avoiding it. Right. For learning that you could get from it. How did you all make the decision to go there? I just instinctively decided to do it because it was during the retreat. That was already really heavy, we were like we should tackle this early on before we get to the end of the weekend, it's gone, we've lost that opportunity. So I decided to make that decision, and facilitate through that conversation because that's part like it was a moment for me to show the participants how to use your privilege. So it was good for them to see that because it's not enough that we only talk about our experiences with marginalization, as they were all urban black students, but actually, like handle and talk about our own horizontal, like racism and violence that happens among our communities, and how do we actually confront it and talk about it, and realize that we are not perfect. That we actually have some power and privileges we needed to acknowledge in that space. Excellent. Good word. Thank you. So as facilitators, we're always talking about this leaning in and leaning out, in what it sounds like is when there's a trigger or there's a microaggression for the sake of education oftentimes, it means leaning in. As a practitioner, do you all always feel like you're able to lean in or what allows you to lean in? Well, what allowed me to lean in was, remembering hope and like radical hope, I think we also had practicum together. So it wasn't just us like going into the dialogue space like randomly, we actually were preparing beforehand in our practicum course, and actually having conversations about what may come up and how can we approach these situations? So what was also really important is remembering that what happened in that dialogue can be returned to in the next dialogue, and how to keep having hope in that process that because it's a sustained communication, because we will be returning, because we are building relationships with each other. There's possibility for change, and that is why I was ready to keep leaning in when I could, when I couldn't, I kept in mind so that we will have another dialogue, and I can take that as an opportunity. I think the whole stepping in and stepping out was really crucial to my experience as well. Because in my group, and this is outside of SYD, but in another program, there was a problem with using the word gay as a slur? Yeah. Now, that we've always be words, but in this circumstance, it was using the term gay. Sure. Knowing that that was something that was probably passed down through family and something that was probably like normalized in school, it was, do I want to talk about this in a group of 30 other teens and make this person possibly feel attacked? Or do I just want to stay quiet and maybe talk about them with it, or talk to them about it individually? At that moment, it was a very, I don't know whether to lean in or to lean out of conversation. So I think it comes down to instincts. As a facilitator, just who is in the dialogue? Will I have another dialogue? Do I know the student personally? Do I know how they might respond? So all that's crucial to knowing stepping in stepping out, leaning and leaning out, all plays a factor. For me, it was also reminding myself how important framing is in that situation that I was actually trying to invite them into a larger conversation they needed to have. This wasn't me trying to attack them by naming a certain behavior or a certain word that they had said, but actually an opportunity of me trying to invest in them, like this is a moment of me investing in you because I can see the possibility for change in you. I want you to change, and I want both of us to grow in this process. So reminding them that this is something mutual that's happening and not something I am correcting. I'm not correcting a behavior for you. I am here trying to let you know how I'm feeling about this, and how the rest of the group is feeling about this. This also then invites them into addressing any other dynamics they had saw showing up that was impacting them. Excellent. So in this process of surfacing and revealing these dynamics that is going on in these micro-aggressions or in these very hot moments or triggers, what do you do for self-care? Because the harm isn't just to the participants, the harm can also be to you as a pure facilitator. You cry. Yeah. We cry together. Yeah. Honestly, that is. That is a cohort of facilitators? Weekend, we sat there and cried. Play video starting at :9:36 and follow transcript9:36 It was a lot of dialogue between all of the facilitators, especially during the retreat like what we did go through today, not necessarily our participants, but what were we feeling? With everything that was going on because I remember when that day that my Latin x group got very emotional and discovered there was first-generation studies, and we're just everywhere. It was very emotionally too yummy, to the point I was like I don't know if I can do this tomorrow. I don't know how I'm supposed to go through these conversations, listen to my Latin x group, pour their hearts out, and just vent to me about things they've never talked about before. Go to sleep and do it tomorrow. For me, it was what got me to the next day, what got me through, was being able to talk to my facilitators about it and being able cry and vent, and shout a little bit, and just get it out, put it out there, and then sleep peacefully. Yeah. I know time to process. Actually process emotionally, so that I can return to the dialogue space. So that is why I was really grateful for our instructors, and for my cohort because it was good to remember that there are people who just wanted to listen to what I was experiencing in the dialogue. So I didn't just try to share about what participants were experiencing in the dialogue, but how I was experiencing it, and how I was being impacted and being able to name that impact, helped me realize where I was emotionally, and what I needed to do. Further, that was take a bath, or eat some ice cream, or just talk to my mother and my little sister is like it was like doing the really small things I needed to do just to return to the dialogue space, and how to take care of myself in that process. Yeah. I feel like dialogues like these are a whole different type of exhaustion. It's not something you can put your finger on and be like yes, I am feeling emotionally and mentally tired because of this. No, it's a buildup of just conversations and things that were said, and things that were done that just all like buildup in you. I feel like it's one of the only types of exhaustion or fatigue that I felt that I feel it everywhere. It's just man, this is really in my mind. It manifest yourself into you. If you don't adjust it, if you don't take care of yourself, if you don't dialogue, eat ice cream. If you don't do whatever you have to do to get those emotions out, and get the buildup of the dialogues out, then it can't manifest. So I think that just knowing yourself, knowing your limits, knowing when to take a step back even, because I remember one morning, I didn't wake up for breakfast. I was just, I need to sleep. Just knowing that and doing that for yourself because it's large part being there for the youth. You can't be there for the youth if you're not there. That's right. So self care was crucial during SYD and just the retreat itself. So as peer educators, what I hear is that reflective practice, that mindfulness, that really healing, thinking about your own traumatization, and how you're going to emerge and thrive in the moment, and for the future, and like you said, self care or that compassionate activism, self love. All of that is just as important as the content delivery or how you facilitate an activity with the young people, but is that which really allows you to be authentic and be present.