Safe Space: Yea or Nay?

This week Managing Editor, Jennifer Johnson and Staff Writer, Patrick Driscoll decided to share their competing opinions (in 500 words or less) on the idea of a “Safe Space” on campus after reading an article about the matter in the New York Times. Below their two articles, we also asked WSU students their opinion on the matter. As readers how do you feel about the issue? Reply with comments or send an email to one of the editors (find these under ‘contact us’ on information bar).

Safe Space: an Act of Sensory or an Act of Shielding?
By: Jennifer Johnson

A recent article in the New York Times, written by Judith Shulevitz, titled “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas” brought up some interesting points that led to an in-depth discussion during one of our daily budget meetings. When do we go from watching what we say in certain company, to living in fear that our own opinion will offend the person next to us? In this day and age, we cringe when someone says something that might offend someone else. A racist remark, a slur: none of us should have to endure the ridicule of another person’s hatred.

But when does the line get crossed, when someone talks about a “touchy” subject as an intellectual matter in an innocent discussion? At what point is the line drawn, and the other party becomes offended by that person’s opinion that isn’t motivated by hate, but by curiosity?

The point of the article discusses whether having a “safe space,” a place where students can go if they don’t want to hear what everyone else is discussing, is really necessary. My personal opinion? It’s completely and utterly unnecessary, and it’s only nurturing the society we are currently stuck in – one where people get so offended if the person next to them has a different view on the world.

We encourage people to “be themselves,” but then we shame them for thinking out loud and sharing their thoughts. Now, what’s excluded from this is when people have racist tendencies about other people. I would never condone that and neither should anyone. What I am referring to is when someone has a certain political or religious view, or preference; we get so heated and offended by what they believe in or support.

College is about growing, and learning to better oneself for society and our future lives. And in order to do that, we need to learn how to take care of ourselves and accept the opinions of others for exactly what they are: their personal opinions. We need to take into consideration where these views have stemmed from, what the person has been through that we haven’t, and what it has done to their character that it hasn’t done to ours.

I would never support a ‘safe space’ because it shelters our students from the reason they are at college: to expand their minds and ready them for the outside world’s brutal honesty.

I would, however, fully support someone who is removing themselves from a situation because it made them feel uncomfortable. They should not have to explain why. The reasoning for a ‘safe space’ in Shulevitz’s story is to give students a break from a difficult or startling topic. This is where we need to not coddle our students by giving them treatment we would give a kindergartener, but give them the freedom to remove themselves from the situation, and let others who are interested in it freely immerse themselves in the topic. Bigotry will never be accepted, but being yourself and not being afraid to voice your opinion in public is and should be promoted, not frowned upon.

A Safer Space: On the Utility of Safe Zones
By Patrick Driscoll

People tend to enjoy reading articles that make them angry. Self-righteousness is an incredibly satisfying thing to indulge, and for many, no fruit hangs lower than “Political Correctness,” enforced by the ever-encroaching PC Brigade.

Political Correctness and its adherents, with their coddling, infantilizing ideas, their condescending tactics of policing speech (who are we to decide what is “offensive” to someone else?), and their funny haircuts are an incredibly easy and satisfying target.

Opposition to sensitivity, be it cultural, sexual or otherwise, is always a very tempting route to take because it places you comfortably in the lap of a vast majority—safe and secure in the unanimity of your own opinion. The notion of a “safe zone” seems inherently ridiculous to members of this majority. But that eagerness for some to laugh at sensitivity – that knee-jerk reaction to scoff at giving anyone “special treatment,” might be part of the reason safe zones are so necessary in the first place.

Judith Shulevitz’s opinion piece in the New York Times, “In College and Hiding From
Scary Ideas”, frames the idea of a “safe zone” on a college campus as a sort of incubation
chamber for cowardice. A distinctly Millennial invention where emotionally-stunted students can
go to be completely safe from ideas that they don’t agree with, free from the harsh, character-
building realities of adult life.

To Shulevitz, the entire idea is ridiculous. From the sneering tone of the article, to the abundance of scare-quotes, it’s clear that the author sees the subject as a farce, a sort of sit-in for the iPhone generation, but without any of the volatile political activism.

Safe spaces will produce a generation of sub-adults lacking the ability to cope with reality, a nation of sheltered, coddled individuals without backbone that real life demands. Shulevitz’s article, unfortunately, reinforces what many marginalized people hear every day of their waking lives: “Toughen up! If I can deal with it, so can you.”

These difficulties that we face build character, and they make you stronger and wiser. But for people who deal with shocking, uncomfortable questions and unsolicited opinions every day—on the bus ride home, at work, at school—about their racial identity, gender, orientation, culture or disability – this daily onslaught can be crippling, rather than constructive. It can be an endless chorus of “why are you different?”

Safe zones, like Worcester State’s LGBT organization or Fitchburg State’s Black Student
Union, are not enemy camps that will spread throughout the campus culture until everyone is a
weeping pile of offended sensibilities. These places exist to show “minority students,” or students who’ve suffered traumatic experiences that there are places for them, regardless of how
marginalized they might feel.

Any campus with mental health facilities already have a safe zone, and I personally don’t see how anyone could be outraged by that. If a student is having difficulty with a mental illness, trauma or bullying, it would be genuinely inhumane to deny them a safer space.

WSU Students were asked:

What do you think of a “Safe Space” on campus? Should we have one? Why or Why not?
“I don’t think it’s necessary. We are all at least 18 years of age coming here, and to baby students isn’t helping them, it’s hurting them.”

—Kelsey Feyler, 20, Resident from Attleboro, MA
“Seems like a good idea.”

—Marcus Johnson, 18, Resident from Hartford, Connecticut

“I live on campus and I feel pretty safe – a lot of cops and everything, all around everywhere. In the dorms and stuff, if anyone has a problem or anything, they’re there. So I don’t think we necessarily need one, but I guess, I don’t know, towards people who have been victimized… If I ever had a problem I would just go to the campus police.”

—Ali, 22, Resident from Springfield, MA

“You wouldn’t need a center like that. As long as you were surrounding yourself with positive people.“

—Brandon Lopez, 20, Commuter from Leominster, MA
“I think Safe Spaces are important. I believe that it should not only be more integrated into the school system, but enforced and required. The younger generation is so much more sensitive and needs to have that place to go. Things have changed so much in the past x-amount of years that this is something we need.”

—Kylie Tun, 20, Resident and English Major from Connecticut

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