My semester started a couple of weeks ago, and in the next few days I have two different First Meetings for activism groups that I run at my school. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to foster a sense of “group unity” and make the organizations as accessible as possible for a group of people with highly variable dis/abilities, commitments, and social justice knowledge bases.
So to start off the year (way after everyone I follow on tumblr has apparently started theirs), I came up with a bunch of alterations to traditional icebreakers and activities that are meant to be more inclusive, fun, and widely accessible. They can always be further improved or tailored to your own group’s needs, though. (And yeah, this is mostly for my own records—because I know I will otherwise forget these).
One person volunteers to start off with a ball/baton/whatever. They introduce themselves and give as many (or as few) of these details as desired:
- [chosen] name
- relationship to the group, if applicable (“leadership,” “ally,” “first-timer,” etc)
- preferred pronouns (“the pronouns that you want people to use when referring to you, like she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs, and so on”)
- and the super-power they would least like to have.
It’s a good idea to write down these four things on the board (if you have one), for everyone’s reference, and to specify that not everyone has to answer all of them, or even introduce themselves at all. Once the first person has gone, they throw the ball/whatever to another member who raises their hand for it, and then that person shares. If you don’t have something small that can be thrown, then you can just “call on” people.
This way, anyone who really doesn’t want to share can get away with not speaking, and people who need time to rehearse their answers can wait until the end of the activity to share. Having the questions written down and visible can also prompt people who would otherwise forget them. Asking for PGPs, and giving a quick explanation of what they are, will also establish that you are/intend to be trans* friendly, even if some trans* members don’t feel comfortable sharing their correct pronouns yet. You still have to be aware that not everyone can throw, though, and probably deal with it on a case by case basis.
2. “The game with the questions and the hat”
Everyone gets out a scrap of paper and writes down one question that they would like to ask the group. The question shouldn’t be too personal or too abstract; things like “do you speak any other languages” or “if you could befriend one historical figure, who would it be?” are way better than “how would you define feminism” or “what’s your sexual orientation?” Then, the fold up their question and put it in a hat in the front of the room. The hat is passed around, and each person takes out one slip of paper and answers the question on it.
To accommodate people with speech/social anxiety/processing issues, it’s good to pass around the hat first, and then get people to answer their question on a volunteer basis, instead of “going around the circle.” Once again, people who need a lot of time to prepare themselves can go last, or even opt not to share at all.
For small groups or large amounts of time to kill, each person can ask and answer multiple questions.
3. “A cold wind blows”
I have no idea why that phrase is involved, but apparently it’s important. Everyone gets together in a circle, with one person standing in the middle. The person thinks of some “common ground” that they might have with other people in the group, and then says “a cold wind blows for everyone who [blank].” For example, “a cold wind blows for everyone who is vegan.” If that applies to you, then you have the option of moving into the circle and trying to take one of the spots vacated by the other people who’re moving. The last person standing is responsible for staying in the middle of the circle, and coming up with the next “a cold wind blows…”
If the person in the middle isn’t able to move to one of the open spots fast enough, though, you should offer to “switch out” with them and come into the middle yourself.
4. “Concentric circles”
Make two circles with an equal number of people in each so that one is surrounding the other. The people in the outwards circle should face inwards towards the people in the inwards circle, who should face back outwards. Then set a topic (like “equality” or “gender”) and give everyone a set amount of time to discuss that topic with the person they are facing in the other circle. Once the time is up, everyone in the inner circle moves one place to the right, and another discussion begins. Before the activity starts, make sure to specify that the inner circle will be doing the moving, so that people can choose which circle (once again, if any) accordingly.
Anyway, yay! I’ve lead or participated in all of these particular icebreakers before, and they really are my favorites. Hopefully these changes will make them a little more friendly to people with various disabilities—because usually those are shafted or actively stigmatized by “group bonding” exercises that so often demand things like “run as fast as possible” or “let’s start with you and work our way around the circle.”
I like that you frame these as optional. I often have troubles seeing the points of icebreakers…