Student initiative: Creating safer spaces

Student initiative on how to create safer spaces.

In 2019, several discussions were organised at the Academy of Fine Arts that dealt with for example inclusivity, equality, and appropriate behaviour. Alongside with these discussions, a student group was established. The group was open for all students, and the Academy of Fine Arts supported their work.

The result was a Safer Spaces poster project – you can read the texts below. The Safer Spaces Poster project was initiated and written by a group of three students; Jessie Bullivant, Joni Korhonen & Eeti Piiroinen. It was supported by a working group of staff; Anita Seppä, Anna-Kaisa Rastenberger, Kaija Kaitavuori, Jaana Kokko. Graphic design by Kiia Beilinson.

The student group would like to thank Ria Andrews, Jemina Lindholm, and Inari Sandell for their sensitive feedback; and Urbanapa and Teak Trans inclusivity working group, for their Guidelines that informed the making of this document. “This is a work in progress. We hope in the future there will be ongoing paid student working groups who will revise this document and make corrections and adapt it to new situations and needs.”

Creating safer spaces at the Academy of Fine Arts

You deserve to feel safe in your working and learning environment.

This document outlines some safer spaces guidelines, specially formulated for the context of the Academy of Fine Arts. 

Originating in queer spaces, safer space guidelines are a tool for fostering an awareness of and sensitivity towards different needs and practical steps you can take to create a supportive, non-threatening environment. We use the word safer to acknowledge that safety is relative: not everyone feels safe under the same conditions.

We understand that the pursuit of safer spaces also requires structural changes, and so this document also contains suggestions on an institutional level. Safer spaces guidelines did not originate to address the communal issues of hierarchical environments such as the Academy of Fine Arts. We have tried to adapt the concept to include social challenges and inaccessible practices common in more hierarchical environments. The guidelines are one attempt towards creating safer spaces in our institution.

This document was written by 3 students. We initiated this project as we experienced a need for safer environments during our studies at the academy. The aim is to have these posters visible in all the physical learning spaces at the Academy of Fine Arts, and that they will become a tool to turn to in situations where you feel unsafe or something doesn’t feel right.

This is a beginning and a work in progress. We recognise that our knowledge and experiences about accessibility are limited. This poster does not explicitly address all specific roles of people who use this space, but we are hoping everyone who does use the space will read this and benefit from the guidelines.

This is not an inherently safe space.

This is not an inherently inclusive environment.

This is a space for learning.

We all come from different experiences, cultures and situations in life, we differ in opinion, expectations and capacities. While many things are structural, we can as a community and individuals contribute to making these spaces more accessible to all. A safer space requires ongoing action, reflection and work by every person in it.

This space has inherent power dynamics and it’s important to be aware of our privileges. Some people are surrounded by people they know, some are not. Some people are neurotypical, some are neurodiverse. Some people can communicate in their first language, some can not. Staff and those in a place of privilege have more power to set the tone. These are just a few examples.

It is good to acknowledge our positions. Sharing information about our privileges and our positions avoids presumptions, and creates space for self-awareness, collectivity, empathy and learning. This way we can begin to understand our positions and how we are contributing to the collective context, and the barriers others may be experiencing in this moment. 

Here are some things you can do to help make this space safer:


Language is important and constantly evolving. The language and words you use can have a big impact on whether members of our community feel comfortable, supported and safe. 

Don’t presume what language people would like to be referred to with. If you don’t know, ask. It’s OK to ask, but also remember that you’re not entitled to an answer. Listen and continue using the language the person refers to themselves with for example, pronouns, names etc. 


This is a space for learning and mistakes happen. 

If you make a mistake, this guide from UrbanApa may be useful:

  • Learn how to say sorry. For example, “sorry, I acted offensively, I will reflect on it and do better next time” is a good start.
  • Educate yourself. It is not people from minority positions’ job to educate you.
  • Remember, it is not anyone’s job to correct you. Be grateful and open to criticism if somebody does.
  • Don’t explain to someone any difficulties you have using the correct pronouns or make excuses for getting it wrong – this could make them feel like their identity is inconvenient and unwelcome. Just correct yourself and move on if you make a mistake.
  • If someone corrects your behavior, teaching or wording, instead of explaining or excusing your actions, listen to their criticism and seek to learn from it.  


Think about what message you are sending with your communication whether they are words, actions or gestures.

  • Are the words you are using accessible to everyone who is listening?
  • When you mention artists, artworks or specific concepts, do you write the names down for others to copy? Do you pay attention to pronunciation? 
  • Are you offering plain language alternatives when using academic terms?
  • Are you offering support to those who need it?
  • Are you being proactive, or do you only respond to things that are already a crisis?
  • Are you giving more space to some voices, positions or ways of speaking than to others? Are you being dismissive of certain voices? 
  • Do you take the opportunity to educate peers and colleagues with internalised misogyny, racism, ableism or transphobia, for example? Do you correct mistakes that happen in private spaces, when nobody is watching?
  • If action is being taken, for example to resolve an issue or organize training, has this action been communicated to everybody on every level of the organisation?


As teachers, you also have a right to a more inclusive, safe working environment. However, remember that you are responsible for ensuring that each student is seen, respected and equally treated. If you notice inappropriate behaviour or language, you will need to intervene.

You should stay aware of distributing information, resources and space for conversation equally. Group discussions during a class should be moderated. 

Introductions and the pronoun round

When referring to others, it’s good to know what pronoun feels comfortable for them in a given situation. Pronouns change and can never be presumed. This is why a pronoun round is important at the beginning of each new situation. It is also important to note that it’s OK not to share. In this case, gender neutral language is important, such as using the common gender neutral pronoun in English: they, them, their.

At the beginning of every course, initiate a pronoun round. Repeat when new people enter the group.

An example of a pronoun round might go: “My name is … , my pronouns are she/they/it/he/…(other pronouns).” 

  • Don’t ask students to explain themselves. 
  • Continue using the language the student refers to themselves with.
  • If the course is happening in Finnish, decide if asking personal pronouns is necessary/desired. If you’re having even one lecture or discussion in English, sharing pronouns is necessary.

When introducing yourself, you could also acknowledge your power position/privileges out loud. 

For example “I am a white, cisgender … I am employed as an hourly based teacher. Etc. etc.”

Ask if there is anything you can do to make the space safer for the people in the room.

Course content

In order to be more accessible to different learning needs, make information about the course descriptions, requirements, expectations and accessibility information available already during the registration period (on WebOodi, Peppi etc.) This information empowers students in deciding if and how they can participate and engage meaningfully in the course. Discuss the course content at the beginning of the course so that students can preempt their needs/request adjustments. This also signals to all students in a course (not just those with disabilities) that you welcome discussion about individual differences in learning, encountered barriers, and ways to maximize access.

People have different capabilities when it comes to learning and participating. Offer alternative possibilities for completing the course(s), for example written instead of spoken assessment (or vice versa), solo instead of group work, remote participation. Offer space for discussing alternatives you might not have considered. Don’t ask students to explain themselves.

Content warnings

Give content warnings before/at the beginning of a class.

Ask students to give warnings about their work in advance so this can be communicated.

  • Respect students’ decisions about whether they want to participate in sessions with content warnings without question.
  • Give appropriate warning and time to respond. 


Students have different physical and mental needs. Time management is important and a lack of management can cause distress and discomfort.

There need to be breaks (if the class is longer than one hour).
Have a plan for the session, know when the breaks will be, how long, and tell everyone.

Study trips

  • Think about how to make provisions for all students’ safety and account for different accessibility needs.
  • Communicate this clearly so that students don’t need to seek out this information.
  • Give enough warning for people with different passports to obtain visas.


Teaching is about constantly learning and responding. Feedback provides an opportunity to address issues that might affect learning. Giving feedback is a generous act.

There should be time reserved for students to provide feedback to the teacher, and this should be encouraged by teachers as a positive. 

Giving feedback should be part of every course. It should be possible to give feedback anonymously. In courses with multiple sessions, feedback should be gathered throughout the course, not just at the end. If the course consists of visiting lecturers, the feedback is also vital for the visiting staff members. In addition to set times of giving feedback, share your preferred way of receiving spontaneous feedback during teaching/the course.

Remember, feedback is highly sensitive information. Processes about how this feedback will be handled, processed, stored and acted on should be clear before people take time to give it. 

It should be gathered, evaluated thoroughly, taken seriously, and discussed with supervisors and other staff members to ensure transparency. 


As students, you also have a right to a more inclusive, safe learning environment. You have the right to ask and demand for a more diverse and inclusive curriculum and for more diverse and inclusive learning practices. 

You are also responsible for contributing to the safety of the people you share space with. Think about your role within this space.

Give space

Consider how much space you are taking up in the classroom, in discussions, in shared spaces.

Make space for other voices. Be generous with your attention. Seek to interact with others respectfully despite differences of opinion. Recognise and acknowledge areas where you lack information and/or experience.

Make space for emotions. They can be an important aspect of communication and should not lessen the importance of the message. Sometimes, a small break is necessary. Sometimes outside help is needed. 

Be an ally

Use your privilege to support those who might be facing discrimination! If you notice something is happening that doesn’t affect you directly, speak up. Being an ally is an active role. Don’t rely on someone else to call it out (/in).

This can be hard. You don’t have to act alone. Assess if you feel supported by others in the situation. Contact details for support are at the bottom of this document/poster.

If someone is ignoring instructions for creating safer spaces, think over if you have the resources and capabilities to ask them to add these practices into their teaching (sharing pronouns, going over time allotted for breaks, having a mediator in larger group discussions etc.)


As administrative staff, you also have a right to a more inclusive, safe working environment. At the same time you also may be able to affect Academy-wide policies. The administration’s practices and decisions bear an essential role in creating a safer and more inclusive learning and working environment and institution. Resources should be directed towards making anti-racist strategies part of the curriculum in arts education at the academy.

The students have a right for inclusive and diverse curriculum and learning content. We all deserve art education that celebrates the art of BIPOC people, of queer people, of people with disablilities, of people with different religious and cultural backgrounds and with different socio-economic statuses. We deserve to learn art history that amplifies perspectives that are not Europe-centered, art history that doesn’t center only around white cisgender straight men.

Hiring and education of staff

A more diverse organisation makes for a more inclusive and safer working and learning environment. Jobs and positions in fine arts institutions are more accessible for people of certain genders, ethnicities, abilities, classes, religions etc. You should take this into account when participating in hiring professors, technicians, lecturers, teachers etc – and not reinforce a discriminatory structure. This should happen on a strategic level within Uniarts.

  • Inclusivity training should be mandatory for professors, teachers, technical and administrative staff. This training should also be provided for all students at the commencement of their studies (and throughout).
  • Similarly, anti-racism training should be mandatory for all students and staff. As characteristics of white supremacy are prevalent in the origins of our institution, culture and environment, many have not considered how they (as white people) contribute to white supremacy. Learning anti-racism is not a one-time thing but a lifelong commitment. As current and future art workers, the students should be educated on subjects of cultural appropriation and anti-colonialism.
  • Visiting teachers and lecturers should be given inclusivity guidelines and instructions prior to teaching. Before guidelines are created, give them this document.
  • Consider if pedagogical studies should be a requirement for professors.
  • The academy should create a role within the administrative staff for a person with specific knowledge of diversity and inclusivity to work across all levels. 
  • Everybody should be aware of what is being done to enhance diversity and inclusivity at the academy.
  • The Academy of Fine Arts is already full of diverse students! Educate yourself about their accessibility needs.

Structure for dealing with harassment

Our place of work and study should be free from harassment. To achieve this, a better working structure for dealing with harassment, faced by students and by staff, needs to be established. The structure should be easily accessible, clear and transparent. One should know what to expect and what are the usual protocols in different situations. 

  • Emails sent by students regarding harassment and complaints must be answered.
  • People working as harassment contact persons should be compensated for their work – also the student contact person appointed by the Student Union.

Bureaucracy and working spaces

  • Administrative processes should also be subject to feedback from students and staff on a regular basis.
  • If you ask for gender in forms, make sure to add options for non-binary genders. Consider if you need this information at all.
  • Toilets for all genders should be accessible from every floor of university buildings.
  • Correcting the name in school email address and online alias should be possible by request, and not tied to a “legal name”.
  • Language in school documents should be inclusive to non-binary genders.
  • Send an acknowledgement of receiving an email, or respond within a timely manner explaining when a full response will be possible.

Courses scheduling

Information about courses should be put up well before the beginning of the course, including language, accessibility information, requirements, course plans /schedules, scheduling of mandatory courses (for example the mandatory courses offered in English).

International students

Access to higher education should be free for all. International students should have the same right to study without tuition fees as students coming from EU and EEA countries.

  • Application and submission timelines should be made manageable no matter where one is applying from. Time needed for applying for a visa and finding housing should be taken into account. 
  • Information or links to transportation information, student benefits, etc. should be actively provided to international students.
  • Scholarships to cover all tuition fees should be accessible for all students arriving from outside of the EU and EEA. 
  • Information on scholarships and criteria for admission should be more transparent.

Who to contact if you feel unsafe at the Academy of Fine Arts 

Kati Mantere:
Equality and parity contact person for the Academy of Fine Arts & Theatre Academy

Aino Autere: 
Student Union harassment contact person

Up-to-date list of contact persons can be found on the Artsi intranet.

Who to contact if you want to address issues in the curriculum or with a teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts

Sanna Yliheljo:

Pinja Metsäranta:

Anita Seppä:

Members of ‘Appropriate Behaviour’ Working group

Up-to-date list of contact persons can be found on the Artsi intranet.

Closing words

Credit goes to Urbanapa’s Ethical Guidelines, and Teak Trans inclusivity working group, for their safer spaces Guidelines that we drew from in the making of this document.

This is a work in progress. We hope in the future there will be ongoing paid student working groups who will revise this document and make corrections and adapt it to new situations and needs. 

Eeti Piiroinen, Jonni Korhonen & Jessie Bullivant 
Published 12.11.2020.