A common and controversial argument in collegiate society today is that of safe zones, and how to deal with opposition and controversy. Some say that the solution is to designate some areas as safe from offense, where certain things cannot be said. Even entire campuses. Others would simply create an atmosphere in which there are unspoken rules dictating what can and cannot be challenged. This is a dangerous idea, and it does not benefit students.
The truth is that safe zones are dangerous things to play with. There is no life of ease after school ends, but there is a guarantee of difficulty, and the fact remains that bosses, managers, CEO’s, and society at large are not willing to move aside for someone’s complaint that they find something offensive. Rather, they would laugh away someone who requested such a thing.
What if, however, one goes to a university that does not experience such turmoil in regards to designated safe spaces? Perhaps the whole campus could be called a safe zone? My own Southern Virginia University fits these descriptions. Now, the setup here promises to rigorously expand and strengthen our minds as well as our spirits (it is a religious school). Despite this promise, when an argument or challenge is extended (not an attack, but an offer for discussion) the administrative staff and most professors are quick to prevent such discussion, and thus, no one learns how to defend their position.
I recall one of the philosophy classes I took, how when asked to present for or against a certain philosophy/philosopher, the overwhelming majority of my classmates used the idea that “God said” as a reasoning. I would always immediately challenge this concept. Not because I disagreed with them, (I share their religion!) but because they need to understand that the world is going to question them in the same way. Nevertheless, the professor would be quick to end their presentation and clap for them the moment they seemed to stutter. Thus, coddling cost someone an incredibly important and valuable learning opportunity.
On the opposite side, a “controversial” professor is being pushed out of the university. He is a favorite of many students, but he does not coddle, and his beliefs are less strict than those held by most university staff. By removing him, another opportunity for students to be challenged to defend themselves becomes lost.
Those who would protect students from difficult conversations and situations definitely mean well. In some cases, a certain type of safe zone may even be necessary, such as a place for rape victims to be able to speak without fear. Most of the time, however, these concepts do a disservice to us as students and future leaders of the world. These zones simply set us up to be unprepared.
Of course, none of this is to condone being outright rude or crass. Yes, one has the right to make a fool of themselves if they wish. Yet the beauty of not living in a safe zone is that when someone offends you, you can learn to challenge them right back. There is a truth in military strategy, and make no mistake—we live in a warzone—that if you hide behind large walls you can be safe for a time. Yet sooner or later you become trapped in a small space and you have to surrender. But if you fight, you can win. Here’s hoping we choose the hard road.