Due to COVID-19 YCA has suspended in-person programming. See our calendar for virtual programs.

Introduction

Young Chicago Authors believes in safe space, spaces free of harm and violence and accountability when that vision is not achieved. Promoting and protecting safe space requires an ongoing and steadfast commitment to doing the work. Addressing the moments when safe space is violated requires an immediate and thorough response. For years, YCA has not offered that. In addition to being a disservice to our communities, YCA’s culture of silence has perpetuated and enabled further harm. Under new leadership, YCA is enacting a 90-day plan to begin what has to and will be a constant pursuit. 

This plan was designed to address the concerns that have been raised in recent public conversations and in discussions with students and staff this past week, as well as concerns voiced for many years. This document covers the broader goals we hope to achieve and a breakdown of the specific plan and initiatives we will enact to achieve those goals.

We understand that we cannot conduct this work alone. In order to complete this plan as effectively as possible, we will bring on external partners with expertise to audit the organizational practices and current safe space policies and help develop and execute this 90-day plan. These organizations will include organizations specializing in safe space practices, organizations working on consent training for youth and adults, organizations offering mental health services to young people who may be distressed by this situation, organizations who have experienced similar issues, as well as restorative justice/accountability process practitioners. As these partnerships are finalized, they will be shared on our website’s Safe Space page.

We understand that there may be issues not represented in this plan. We are committed to uncovering the work that remains. This plan is flexible. We welcome input and insight. As we move forward, we understand that all of the initiatives may not be completed within 90 days. However, we will prioritize transparency and urgency, releasing a project plan with a timeline for the initiatives as soon as possible. We will be held accountable for this plan and provide continuous public updates.

We acknowledge that this work is long overdue and the delay has already been harmful. We hope that YCA can regain your trust. We are grateful for the opportunity to move in the right direction, grounded in a commitment to building the organization our young people and Chicago deserve.

Goals

  • Acknowledge and recover the silences that have been created since 2013
  • Address the harms such silences produced
  • Create a culture of transparency and open dialogue
  • Create an infrastructure that supports the thorough safe space mechanisms a youth-facing arts organization requires
  • In order to achieve these goals, we must acknowledge the following:
    • Our young people are often experiencing harm outside of YCA.
    • Because of the nature of our work, young people are uniquely vulnerable given the trust they may have with staff, the vulnerability artistic creation often entails, and the confusing power dynamic that working closely with someone you look up to can engender.
    • As part of our mission to empower young people to show up as themselves, YCA is a sex-positive space. That comes with responsibility.
    • Because of the staffing structure of YCA, our staff training must take specific precautions. For example, some of our staff is the same age as the students they work with while other staff members have a large age difference between them and the students.
    • Because our staff also often includes external and contracted workers, we must work to ensure that everyone is working with and at the same standards.
    • With our work there exists several modes of harm we must be proactive about preventing and addressing: staff to student, staff to staff, student to student, and student to staff. We also have to be responsive to harm by and to members of the broader YCA community.

Plan/Initiatives

  • Establishment of Accountability Team comprised of students and partners and staff to help guide the response and its execution
    • Closed town halls with the accountability team to check in on the 90-day plan as it begins, throughout its execution, and onward.
  • A full evaluation of the staff and the safety of young people within our space by a third party and an immediate follow-up to address any issues revealed
    • What does safety look like for YCA students? Are our young people safe at public programming, paid performances, our poetry festival? In the virtual space?
  • Review and center the list of demands created by YCA Teaching Artists in 2014
  • Mandatory, routine trainings for YCA Staff
    • Training topics will include consent, mentor relationship boundaries, speaking with young people about safe space, recognizing and preventing sexual abuse and grooming, mandated reporting, and more.
    • Trainings specific to the vulnerability inherent to working in the arts, working with youth, and, specifically, working in the arts with youth
    • Training series with Creative Interventions Toolkit and Fumbling Towards Repair to develop and train staff on accountability processes
  • Public town halls with young people and partners to hear concerns on this specific situation & their thoughts on safe space in general
  • Routine public workshops for young people/participants
    • Consent trainings
    • YCA Safe Space Practices & Safe Space Creed Workshops
    • Workshops on unlearning and dismantling patriarchy and rape culture
  • Review and rewrite of YCA’s “Safe Space Creed”
    • What does a safe space at YCA mean? What does it entail? What agreements can be made to promote that? How will that agreement be enforced across our various modes of engagement?
    • How will this Safe Space framework be communicated and taught to students, staff, and partners?
  • Safe Space portion of YCA website
    • Create and release a public presentation of YCA’s history of responding and not responding to harm, as well as past safe space processes that may have failed and current policies and practices
    • Develop publicly available accountability steps/system for when harm is brought to YCA’s attention
      • When staff/adult harms
      • When student harms
    • External resources for promoting and maintaining safe space
  • Gather and provide resources for our students
    • Mental health resources for people triggered by content shared in our spaces
    • Resources for people who are experiencing or have experienced harm
    • Partnering with organizations that are first responders to harm
  • Revise onboarding processes for new/potential employees & new/potential external partners
    • Clearly communicating safe space history, expectations, and current practices
  • Create a disclosure mechanism for people who have experienced harm in relation to YCA

Thank you for taking the time to review this plan. If you would like to contact YCA directly regarding this plan, please email safespace@youngchicagoauthors.org.