In recent years, there has been a great deal of debate regarding the purpose and effect of safe spaces on college campuses. Safe spaces are what they sound like: designated areas where anyone, often marginalized minorities, can go to feel safe—to express opinions and concerns without fear of being harassed or attacked. They’re not new by any means. In fact, they’ve been around since post-Civil War, “when racial minorities, women and gays and lesbians became larger presences on college campuses,” according to CNN. In a white man’s world, safe spaces provided an outlet where anyone could feel comfortable and free from harm.
Just this fall, Dean of Students John Ellison at the University of Chicago sent a notice to incoming freshmen, quoted by The New York Times, which read, “…we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.” Brown University disagreed, creating a safe space complete with Play-Doh, bubbles, coloring books, cookies and just about anything else you might find in a five-year-old’s bedroom. I think both Ellison’s idea and Brown’s idea of safe spaces stray from what they should be. A room resembling a playroom seems to serve as a therapy or stress-relieving space more than a safe space. Other critics of safe spaces who side with Ellison argue that they hinder the learning process and discourage students from challenging their ideas. But that’s not the point. They’re not places to hide from other viewpoints, and they’re not places to use because you think your feelings might get hurt. Rather, the purpose should be for students to be able to express, discuss and challenge ideas in a respectful environment without fear of being shamed or harassed.
As of November 8, 2016, these fears have become all too real for many people. Although Facebook has been alight with articles, statuses and comments about the election, it seems that there are very few people who feel comfortable talking in depth about their opinions face-to-face. And it’s even more astonishing how few are willing to listen. The lack of curiosity and disturbingly negative dialogue used by both parties has contributed to the unrest and frustration that has cultivated within communities. Blue voters and Trump supporters alike are fearful of attack or harassment for voicing their opinions.
And let’s not forget about the minority groups in this country. After the election results were revealed, there were over 400 racist incidents that occurred within the week, according to TIME Magazine. Women are unsure of what is to come in regards to their reproductive rights and other ways in which the patriarchy will be perpetuated. Immigrant families don’t know if they’ll be here much longer—if they’ll be forced to leave the country they’ve grown to love and respect. So many of us are afraid.
The fact of the matter is we need to talk. We need to open up civil dialogue if we want to get through these tumultuous events in one piece. Safe spaces should not promote ignorance, but provide a respectful, comfortable environment in which students can address and discuss the issues that they may have contrasting ideas about.
I wish more than anything that safe spaces didn’t have to exist at all. Everyone should feel safe everywhere. No one should feel like they might get attacked for expressing an opinion, and no one should have to fear for their well being. But, as of right now, that’s how it is. Not everyone has learned that racism, sexism and homophobia are unacceptable. Not everyone has learned how to respect others and their beliefs or how to carry on a meaningful, challenging conversation while maintaining a calm demeanor. And until we all learn how to conduct ourselves, safe spaces are what we’ve got.