Sunday, April 1, 2012

Van Slam Family Minutes & Safe Space Workshop

Dear all:  Below please find the minutes of March 30's Van Slam Family meeting, and the thoughts aligned with the Safe Space workshop Tara Hardy hosted in our meeting.  Please be advised that the following minutes include descriptions of sexual violence, and we invite you to take care of yourself while reading them.  Thank you.

In love and community,

Kyle Mallinson
Volunteer Coordinator, VanSlam


DATE:  March 30, 2012
TIME:  19:00 – 22:00
LOCATION:  Britannia Community Centre

Tara Hardy (Facilitator)
Sarah Anderson
Lisa Baird
Jill Binder
Chris Gilpin
Erich Haygun
Randy Jacobs
Dana Kagis
Sue McIntyre
Kyle Mallinson (Notetaker)
Jessica Mason-Paull   
Daniel Mark Patterson
Julie Peters
Duncan Shields
Alla Shishkov
Lisa Slater   
Trevor Spilchen
Kaelyn Stappleton
Sasha Wiley

1. Welcome and Introductions

• Tonight’s facilitator, Tara Hardy, welcomed everyone to the circle and introduced herself as a facilitator of a process.  She explained that she was invited and welcomed as facilitator for her background in Safe Space issues and survivor workshops.  Tara concluded her introduction by specifying that she would participate largely to help a useful and inclusive discussion occur and continue, otherwise giving space for the voices of the VanSlam community.  The Van Slam Family welcomed her as an honorary member of our community.

• Tara also elucidated that the content of the agenda was produced in conscientious response to a number of survivors who have come forward with stories of sexual violence within VanSlam and its community.  This meeting provided a workshop to construct tools of consent-based culture in VanSlam, but first and foremost was a direct discussion towards building safety in our community. 

2. Election of Rules Committee Member(s)

• Jill enquired what the Rules Committee is, its function, and how it works.  Kyle elucidated that the Rules Committee is:  1) an ad-hoc body that deliberates on issues regarding rules and, when necessary, brings recommendations to the Van Slam Family; 2) an ad-hoc grey-area resolution for competitive rules violation during poetry slams, as well as a protest committee when needed; and 3) a review body regarding possible violations of the Honour Code. 

• As of the beginning of this meeting, there were four members of the R.C.  Lisa S. elucidated that the Rules Committee requires a minimum of five members, but is not currently approaching an upward limit. 

• The following individuals were nominated for the Rules Committee:
-Mo Lawrence
-Daniel Mark Patterson
-Lisa Slater
-Trevor Spilchen

• All nominees accepted their nominations.  The vote was cast by secret ballot, with all members confirming or denying each nominee.

• The results were that all four nominees were given majority votes of “Yes”.  Therefore, the current Rules Committee membership, including ex officio, as of the coming season is as follows:

-Jillian Christmas
-Mo Lawrence
-Kyle Mallinson
-Jessica Mason-Paull (ex-officio; Slammaster)
-Daniel Mark Patterson
-Lisa Slater
-Duncan Shields
-Trevor Spilchen

3. Safe Space Workshop


• Tara, as promised, gave tools to help the Family communicate, and as such the below are some of those tools.  She began by re-iterating that she has come by request to facilitate a talk about safe space.  She stressed that she did not come because the community is bad or because people are in trouble; rather, she has come in peace and community reconciliation.  She continued that she is not interested in fostering extreme acrimonious policies, but rather healing. 

• Tara also expressed that she is inspired by the community’s investment in one another, and explained that no poetry slam community in the world is doing what we are doing, during the present meeting or otherwise, regarding this issue.  We are creating a model for other communities while we help each other, and as of this dictation the world of slam poetry is already beginning a process of healing because of what was said, done, shared, and promised today. 

• Tara explained that there will not be completion of this issue tonight.  These issues cannot be resolved in a night; but a conversation can be opened.  These minutes are a testament to a beginning, and a reference for future necessary discussions on this important issue. 

Definitions of Terms

• A definitions sheet was handed out (as per the attached) to provide tools in the discussion.  The definitions clarify what does and does not constitute sexual assault, and are broader in scope than our cultural myths that rape is solely a forceful physical assault in defiance of a clearly provided No.  Tara clarified that these definitions are fluid, and can, fairly, be disputed.  They are given to the Family as tools with which to converse about violence. 

• At the end of these minutes are a series of lists authored solely by collaboration within the Family, dictated by Tara as entries were raised.  They detail the community’s thoughts for how to create a healthier community, and a culture of consent.  These are not etched in stone, but merely deliberated upon and fostered in good faith.  The list regarding goals is immediately below, so as to put the following discussion in context. 

What are Our Goals?
-Developing process for when safe space has been violated
-Getting a definition of safe space for different people
-Fundamentally changing culture of silence around violence
-Creating “hubs” of accountability
-Taking personal and collective responsibility for safe space
-Tactics for maintaining, repairing, and improving safe space.
-Fostering an environment that supports the value of safe space.
-Measureable safety
-Information and accessibility
-Defining boundaries and recourses.

Ground Rules
*While these were rules for fostering discussion during this meeting in particular, these are valuable tools for any discussion regarding these matters.
-Basic respect
-Share time
-Assume best intentions
-Be solution-oriented (creative, not destructive)
-Allow for disagreement
-Stand in compassion
-Love is the ground floor

Current Situations and Next Steps

• Together, the Family resolved that a committee shall be founded that speaks to issues of safety, violence and women’s issues in the community, and provides both recommendation and resolution to these issues.  It is tentatively called the Safety-Policy Development Committee.  This committee, as of its foundation, has the following characteristics:
-Membership is not accrued by vote, but merely via request to join the conversation.
-The committee has no upward limit on membership. 

• The volunteers who joined the Safety-Policy Development committee as of the present meeting are:
-Lisa B.
-Erich Haygun
-Kyle Mallinson
-Jessica Mason-Paull
-Julie Peters
-Lisa Slater
-Trevor Spilchen

• It was resolved that a date for the first meeting of the Safety-Policy Development Committee will be resolved within the next two weeks. 

**ACTION:  Lisa Slater to contact members of the Safety-Policy Development Committee to schedule first meeting

• R.C. proposed that a topic for the first meeting of the Safety-Policy Development Committee be how to respond when a called-out perpetrator rejects accountability regarding the requested resolution actions. 

• What followed was a space in which individuals shared their personal stories of violence and unsafe behaviour within the community.  The details and identities regarding these stories are redacted out of respect for the confidentiality of the speakers. 

• Notable issues raised during the sharing were:  survivor and bystander inaction in response to sexual violence; skirting the responsibility to receive consent before engaging sexually with another person; violent sexual touch without receipt of consent; violent continuation of sexual contact in defiance of an expressed No; physical violence to facilitate sexual violence; violence without touching (intimidation and trapping); ignoring signs of distress during sex; boundary violations; emotional manipulation and guilt as means of coercion; perceived entitlement to pursue romantic interplay with a person; interrogation of a person’s sexuality or a person’s No; alcohol as a means of control; alcohol as a loss of the tendency to respect a boundary; being a new member of the community without support in place to protect from sexual violence or aggression; public sexual bragging and slut-shaming; silence on being a survivor for fear of consequences of speaking up.

Notable quotes:
“I’m someone who stayed; there are many who don’t; so it’s important that we as a community have a way to respond.”
“The reason I’m sharing now is because I have found other survivors… and we have all remained silent.”

• Tara indicated that there is currently no policy regarding how to respond to such accounts.  She advocated that solutions involve support of perpetrators to seek help and be safe, as internalizing a history of unsafe behaviour is an initially traumatic experience.  It was agreed that any perpetrators named will be informed, and resources of perpetrator rehabilitation will be given as a request to seek help.  In the meantime, it will be asked that any perpetrator step back from the community for a period of time while a policy of resolution is deliberated upon. 

• Lisa S. re-iterated that, given what has been said at this meeting, this is not about a single person, but rather about building a generally safe community, and, in the fondness of time and given good practice, welcoming perpetrators back, following a process to ensure safety and accountability.  She elaborated that the goal is not to shame and “out” perpetrators, but to support and heal perpetrators, survivors, and the community.  As such, she asked that the Family support perpetrators inasmuch as working with them on healing, to promote a safer community.  Erich elaborated that merely exiling perpetrators displaces problematic behaviour and enables violence elsewhere. 

**ACTION:  Safety-Policy Development Committee to develop policies around how to address interventions and other issues as they come up

• An ad-hoc committee was developed to reach out to the local perpetrator and request that said perpetrator agree to an abstention from all VanSlam and VPH events for a period of up to three months while relevant policy is developed.

**ACTION: Ad-Hoc committee to make contact with perpetrator and request an abstention


• Lisa reported that an email account has been founded to answer questions regarding the matters raised at the meeting and with respect to the issue of safe space.  She implored the Family not to direct questions to survivors, even and especially about their trauma, but rather to the email account, so that they can be answered in a safe manner.  The email account is reachable at 

**ACTION:  Lisa Slater to schedule a follow-up workshop regarding creating tools for witnesses.

Community-Authored Tools

Best Practices:  Poets (On Teams)
-Unaccountable perpetrators not allowed on teams
-Rules around alcohol

Best Practices:  Venue / Weekly Slam
-Honour Code visible
-Protocol for welcoming newcomers
-MC Spiel – humour/play
-Tools for boundary violation         

Best Practices:  Stage
-Call out
-Trigger warnings

Best Practices:  Audience
-Encourage audience to speak (boo at “crazy shit”(?))
-Encourage conversation with poets

Best Practices: With Survivors
-Have identified people (trained in active listening, if possible) to go to
-Err on the side of caution with boundaries
-Professional resources
-Procedure for bringing things forward
-Regular education for organizers
-Involve police (?) / authorities at request of survivor and support their decisions and needs

Best Practices:  With Perpetrators
-Interveners trained in active listening
-Professional resources
-Inclusion in process
-Someone to walk with perpetrator through process
-Accountability Committee
-Stated terms for reintegration
-Time for separation / stated boundaries
-Procedure for how things get brought forward
-Appeals process (?)
-Focus on behaviour, not people
-Involvement of police

Best Practices:  Community Events

Aspects of Support and Alliance with Survivors
-Believing people when they come forward
-Suspend judgement and hear them
-Offer choices for interventions
-Provide support and resources
-Have survivor drive the solution (in balance?)
-Having support conduits – intervention
-take it seriously
-Not comparing individuals to other situations (to minimize or exaggerate).  Take each as own thing.

Aspects of Appropriate Intervention with Perpetrators
-Bring concerns to perpetrator
-Bring in / consult professionals
-Suspend judgement and hear them
-Make them a partner with rebuilding safety
-Provide support and resources
-Not comparing individuals to other situations (to minimize or exaggerate).  Take each as own thing.

How do We Know Safety is Present?
-Identify when not present
-We hear about violence
-Addressing power, talking about it
-Specific people to talk to
-Presence of appropriate humour
-Cooperative call-outs
-Generous and mature taking of ownership and making amends
-When boundaries are respected and not interrogated

What are the Responsibilities of the VanSlam Community?
-To take this seriously
-To provide resources for learning (including with respect to gender issues)
-To re-evaluate policies and values regularly
-To have policies and to uphold them (e.g. constitution)
-To have a procedure for assessment regarding violation or non-violation

Self-Care Recommendations
-Don’t be alone
-No major decisions / processing for 48 hours
-Any reaction is “normal”
-Look for reactions for a week-10 days
-Safety plan  (A-B-C plan for how to cope with a boundary violation or triggering situation)


  1. Thank you for sharing these notes and transparency. -Karen G.

  2. It's Duncan. Good minutes, Kyle.

  3. I'm so moved by this, by your care for everyone involved. This is SUCH important work, and such hard work. The courage it takes to do something, to take action and record it with care, even knowing there will be missteps and imperfections, just can't be overstated. Thank you.



  4. This is so real and meaningful and needed. Thank you VanSlam for being the foundation for the rest of us to follow in this long journey of maintaining (or in some places rebuilding) an environment of safety. I want to fly to Vancouver just to hug you all. <3