“Problematic”: The Safe Space”
By: Dion McNeil
Unless someone has been living under a rock or simply choose to view the current situation on college campuses a different way there would appear to be a noticeable increase on these demands for safe spaces. The idea is to create a space, both metaphorically and literally, for people who believe that they need that space. Of course this runs against the very idea of college where intellectual thought, debate and general education is supposed to be the rulers of this plane. However we see more and more than safe spaces and the idea that certain people should never invade those spaces being spouting up left and right. This idea alone may not seem all that troubling but the damage is being done.
Safe spaces isn’t a new idea. Of course one could easily link this to the idea that some people require personal space from others who may not agree with their positions, beliefs or generally just want to exist in the same space. There are historical references and those are too many in number but the current forms are the most troubling. Consider that a young eighteen year old is going to college where some of their ideas about the world could be turned upside by a college professor. Now couple that with that same teenager believing that because their professor says something that they don’t agree with that perhaps this teen needs a space away from that professor’s teachings. Sounds far’fetched? No, that idea isn’t outrageous. This actually happened. We will discuss that later but first we need to get to some of the more recent head scratchers.
Few battlegrounds got as bitter and as nasty as the safe space demanding, new course suggesting and outright protest of a movement started on the campus of Claremont McKenna College (CMC). There were students protesting with demands from all sorts of student organizations. One of the most telling statements made by a student, according to Hannah Oh of the Claremont Independent went a little something like, “We want a center that supports marginalized students first and foremost.” If that doesn’t reveal the level of narcissism that some of these students had nothing will ever shine a light on that dark tunnel. The CMC situation only appears to be worse when there is a glance through the official letter sent by some of the protesters.
One doesn’t need to look far in that letter to see the problems. Take the below suggestion alone and one can see an issue:
“Expose students to systemic oppression through FWS and FHS-this includes but is not limited to issues on race, sexuality, gender, class and ability. The need for such programs to educate the student body is evidenced by numerous microaggressions felt by students of color. The cultural insensitivity on campus is further highlighted by race themed party proposals, such as an Indian Wedding Party and Colonial Bros, Pilgrims, and Navajos themed TNC.”
In other words the demand here is that CMC is supposed to expose students to oppression. But then the obvious question becomes who is oppressed and who isn’t? If one were to look at the situation objectively many people can say that they are oppressed by the same standard no matter the race, sexuality, gender or any other factor that person happens to be affected by. If one were to read through that entire letter not a single shred of evidence is presented. Even if a recent event helped motivate the writing and mailing of this letter to the college president it is standard practice to at least reference a situation. Yet all we are left with is a claim, a sweeping demand that is desired to be implemented across campus and the demonizing of parties. Even if someone is insensitive, and that is debatable in this situation, that doesn’t mean a college has to spend loads of money to forcefully implement structures and impose standards on everyone.
CMC wasn’t the only victim of the safe space attack mob. In a piece written by Judith Shulevitz for the New York Times we learn that even Brown University has seen demands for safe spaces and a weapon form of this concept. Wendy McElroy went to Brown to speak about rape culture and have a debate with known feminist Jessica Valenti. Protesters to Wendy McElroy at the university successfully managed to obtain safe spaces in the event that the speaker said something that might “trigger” someone. The strange part about all of this were the statements that Jessica Valenti made. Now if someone is claiming they needed a safe space due to the words of Wendy McElroy why wasn’t there a safe space established for the people who may find that Jessica Valenti was almost on the verge on excusing violence and vigilante justice? After all lots of people lost their lives that way and there are numerous citations, buildings have been vandalized such as the UVA rape story where fraternity members feared for their lives.
Valenti wanted the safe spaces and even spoke about how it was a good idea. The noted feminist even said at the start of her soliloquy that she hoped to not trigger anyone as talking about rape could be triggering. But the idea of believing in safe spaces isn’t harmful in of itself it’s just when those ideas are turned into a weapon that is more concerning. According to the Brown Daily Herald Valenti said, “While I can’t officially suggest that you vandalize school property, I’m not against radical action.” That statement was in response to people writing names of accused rapists, or believed rapists, on school property at Columbia and Barnard College. So in one breath Jessica Valenti doesn’t seem to mind safe spaces but also apparently doesn’t believe in someone having a safe space from an accusation and a safe space from potential slander and defamation of character.
The practical implications of safe spaces and the consequences may not be immediately visible to some people. What we are creating is a generation that believes once someone shouts, “I’m offended” or “I need a space from you” that somehow the world is going to comply or be sensitive to this. It seems like humans are the only creatures on this planet who have members of the rank and file that will follow or even consider this brand of nonsense. Of course not many rational people are going to advocate someone do something overtly offensive just for the sake of doing it but at the same time one must understand the slippery slope attached. The idea is change the world and change speech. Speech will never be changed so long as there is a will to keep things the way they are. Another angle is to change hearts and minds but not in a good way. Peaceful cooperation has served to be the best way to convince another person of being peaceful. If someone shouts, demonizes, protests and call for resignations from someone’s job then maybe, just maybe, that isn’t the best way to go about bringing true change to the world.
One of the most vile ideas that comes out of those safe spaces to some is the very idea of the concept. A safe space is an environment where someone can come, not be questioned, not be made to feel uncomfortable and mostly importantly this is a place where someone’s feelings rules over everything else. Now a person who comes to college to have their positions challenged, actually learn something and actually wants a differing opinion even if a challenge isn’t desired the obvious problem should be visible. How does one learn anything without being challenged? A person who burns their hand as a child learns something from that experience. Would that person who burned their hand demand a safe space from stoves? The very idea of nature and survival is making it past challenges. Evolution, national selection and adaptation demand that each difference was simply a response to a challenge from one’s own species, other species or the environment uncomfortable and you may be non-violent but I need a space because I don’t want to feel uncomfortable.” To those people who think this way then a little wake up call is in order. Institutions of higher education and the ideas presented there in terms of safe spaces don’t translate all that well to the rest of the world. After all, how many times is someone going to go to their boss and tell that boss that they demand a safe space at their work place? No, it won’t work because the world doesn’t work this way. Being challenged is essential for job growth, learning, parenting, problem solving and living. Being offended or made to feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean someone cannot be challenged.
There are a lot of double standards in this idea of safe spaces. One of those double standards is the idea that one needs a safe space due to micro-aggressions and responding to those supposed aggression with outright aggression or demands. Calling for someone’s job and their position to be given to someone deemed to be marginalized calls into question the ethics of such demands. Demonizing someone based on racial identity and gender or the classical straight white male as the oppressor idea makes one wonder if some of these people know what a double standard is. One of the strangest ideas is that on one end many of these safe space protesters and demands of those advocating for these spaces call for safe spaces for the marginalized and yet even if a demographic isn’t deemed marginalized but some members of that demographic actually are marginalized then no exception is made. It is one thing to demand something of society because most of us will ignore this but it is another thing to demand a safe space but also not demanding a safe space from you.
Dion McNeil is a writer for the Soap Box Corner. If anyone wants to be featured in the SBC Perspective series or have stories that should be covered by the Soap Box Corner email us at SBCPerspectives@yahoo.com. Thank you for reading!