Taskin Quagliani reports on the active listening workshops held by Our Bodies Our Voice at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) in April, highlighting the importance of learning how best to support survivors of sexual assault or generally contribute to safe conversational spaces.
Three weeks into April 2022, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Our Bodies Our Voice (OBOV) collaborated with HeForShe x UvA to host two active listening workshops at the Roeterseiland campus for students at the University of Amsterdam. The workshops were geared toward helping students hone their active listening skills, and to provide them with a toolkit of methods to better support survivors.
These workshops were conducted with support from the UvA’s Central Diversity Office (CDO) which aims to “contribute to the realization and implementation of policies in the area of diversity and inclusion, in collaboration with the relevant staff departments” as stated by OBOV.
The workshop on April 19th was hosted by Gabriella Thompson, the secretary director and project manager of OBOV. Gabrielle opened up the floor by explaining the role of OBOV at the university in helping both students and members of staff to better understand how to create a safer, more inclusive space.
The workshop officially began with an introduction to widely used (and frequently misunderstood) terminology. Of particular importance was the concept of consent – an ongoing process that should be clear, coherent and willing. In other words, consent is discussed as an explicit, mutually comprehensible permission that is willingly negotiated when all parties involved understand the situation.
The workshop allowed participants to practice their active listening skills at various points. On one such occasion, each participant was asked to either predict or imagine a scenario where they may struggle to be an active listener. Then, in pairs, participants discussed their biases, shortfalls and blind spots, while their partners gave them advice and guidance on how to be a better active listener. From this, the following active listener’s checklist was formulated:
– Are you being attentive towards the speaker?
– Are you withholding judgment and taking the time to reflect on what the speaker has said?
– Have you clarified what the speaker has said?
– Are you being patient with the speaker as well as yourself?
– What is your body language conveying?
– Are you facing the speaker? Are your arms crossed creating a physical barrier?
– Have you restated and/or summarized what the speaker has said?
If you are ever in doubt about whether you are actively listening, refer to the acronym “SAVES”. That is, Simple speak (remain calm and collected), Avoid judgment, Validate the speaker’s feelings, Empower the speaker to deal with the situation in the way they see fit and remember, Silence can also be a powerful thing.
Taking the steps to become a better active listener not only helps to build trust with others, but also allows you to reflect on what your limits as a listener are. Knowing your strengths and limits allows you to be more realistic about what you can and cannot help with. Crucial to note, active listening brings the dynamics of power imbalances into discussion, as well as the importance of recognizing that different individuals have differing experiences. Thus, we need to be cognizant of the fact that creating a safe space is not and never will be a “one size fits all” experience.
In closing, Gabrielle stressed the importance of helping both students and teachers in working towards creating safer spaces, an undertaking that is made possible due to the current partnership with the University of Amsterdam. Students are encouraged to get together and request similar workshops for a group of people, or perhaps even propose such a workshop to lecturers in order to bring these incredibly important insights into the wider academic space.
Should students want to get involved with Our Bodies Our Voice, they can find more information on their website as well as on their Instagram page @ourbodies.ourvoice.For students looking for assistance, the University of Amsterdam offers resources that can be found on the UvA webpage. Here, students will find a social safety support guide highlighting various points of contact depending on the situation, such as the student counselors, complaints committee, and the confidential advisers for undesirable behavior, amongst others.