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Safe spaces hurt our campus and students

by Katerina Gang September 13, 2016
Safe spaces hurt our campus and students

Exploring the contentious topic of safer spaces at Concordia

Recently, the University of Chicago sent a letter to incoming freshmen informing them that safe spaces and trigger warnings would not be tolerated on campus. The university also said they wouldn’t cancel controversial speakers simply because they were deemed offensive.

“Members of our community must have the freedom to espouse and explore a wide range of ideas,” the letter stated.

The letter, which was shared online, provoked a social media frenzy —many praising and decrying the decision alike. Decriers, however, are gaining traction. Pew Research Center, a Washington D.C.-based “think tank,” found 40 per cent of millennials support limiting free speech to avoid offending minority groups.

Safe spaces have overtaken college campuses. According to The New York Times, when Brown University invited libertarian Wendy McElroy to debate the existence of “rape culture” on college campuses, student volunteers set up a safe space next door for “triggered” students.

In an incredibly infantilizing move, the space offered cookies, colouring books, Play-Doh and videos of frolicking puppies to adult students.

Here at Concordia, we have started to embrace safe space culture. Campus clubs such as Queer Concordia, sell themselves as “safe spaces,” while official campus events like ASFA Frosh tout new “safe spaces” as a major progressive change and selling point. This hurts students.

Exposure to new ideas is the basis of higher education. Assuming students can close themselves off, as if they’re sure their ideas are inherently correct, is limiting. Confronting new ideas, exploring other options and understanding others allows us to expand or update our worldviews.

Open dialogue also helps us strengthen our beliefs, as hearing thoughtful critique allows us to explore why we hold these ideas, and defend them more succinctly.

“We expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement,” said the UChicago letter. “This may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”

Uncomfortable ideas shouldn’t be feared. “Bad” ideas can’t survive in the free marketplace of ideas. Like an Adam Smith-esque free market, the best ideasnamely “true” or “moral” ideaswill win out in a fair and transparent competition against inferior ideas. The best way to fight “bad ideas” is to let everyone hear them.

At a talk given at the University of Massachusetts, provocateur and journalist, Milo Yiannopoulos, explained that, after its first real media exposure on the BBC’s Question Time, the far-right, racist British National Party lost mainstream support and the few local seats it had won in the previous election. The party is virtually non-existent today.

“This is why it isn’t just important to give platforms to ordinary speech,” said Yiannopoulos, who was banned by social justice groups at several colleges. “It’s important to give platforms to all speechbecause sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

University should prepare students for adult life – which doesn’t care or cater to feelings. It’s a hard adjustment, but the corporate world doesn’t offer cookies and Play-Doh.

Students need to discern between disagreement and harassment, and learn how to act independently in each situation. Forcing students to confront their issues head-on teaches them to speak up for themselves, which is beneficial. To assume students can’t or shouldn’t be fiercely independent in the defense of their beliefs and needs is infantilizing and insulting.

Critics of UChicago’s policy fear that students with mental illnesses, like PTSD, will be negatively impacted. Yet students with diagnosed disorders have a responsibility to inform peers and professors. Most, if not all, would be sympathetic. But this should be dealt with on an individual basis, not as university-wide mandate. You can’t limit education to cater to the minority.

Safe space culture stifles individuality, creativity and independence, which are good qualities to foster in our future leaders. As John F. Kennedy said, “A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”

Graphic by Florence Yee

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5 comments

Noelia Gravotta September 19, 2016 - 13:40

You seem to conflate “safe spaces” with place where no other opinions matter or are allowed to be discussed. Quite the opposite. Safe spaces are where people of all opinions can debate without fear of discrimination and oppression.

You write, “Exposure to new ideas is the basis of higher education.” — Yeah, because sexism, racism, ableism are “new ideas”. PLEASE. These are the oldest ways of oppressing and silencing people. Your method of championing “free speech” is lazy and privileged.

Safe spaces are where one can truly be exposed to new ideas by discussing them without repercussions and without the silencing that oppressed minority groups face.

Get a grip, and get over yourself.

Reply
Noelia Gravotta September 19, 2016 - 13:42

You seem to conflate “safe spaces” with places where no other opinions matter or are allowed to be discussed. Quite the opposite. Safe spaces are where people of all opinions can debate without fear of discrimination and oppression.

You write, “Exposure to new ideas is the basis of higher education.” — Yeah, because sexism, racism, and ableism are “new ideas”. PLEASE. These are the oldest ways of oppressing and silencing people. Your view of what “free speech” means is lazy and privileged.

Safe spaces are where one can truly be exposed to new ideas without the silencing that oppressed minority groups face.

Get a grip, and get over yourself.

Reply
someone September 21, 2016 - 01:04

“Safe spaces are where people of all opinions can debate without fear of discrimination and oppression.”
Can you provide an example of this happening at Concordia (or not happening, perhaps)? I’m trying to understand why a radical leftist and socialist (like myself) just can’t seem to come to terms with some these identity politics.
Frankly, I DO “conflate “safe spaces” with places where no other opinions matter or are allowed to be discussed” because then what is it for? What are you protecting yourself from? I probably disagree with the author on quite a few things, but if she (or anyone else) has a less sophisticated approach than I about gender, or race etc., that doesn’t make them bigoted and something I need to be protected from. Instead its an opportunity to show someone a different way, because I know my opinions and my intellect will WIN the day if I’m allowed to be heard.
This is HER safe space where she can freely speak her mind without being bullied by well meaning leftists who have made caricatures of everything they disagree with… oh right I guess she doesn’t get a safe space, does she?
I could be wrong but you sound like the privileged one to me

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se der September 20, 2016 - 16:42

It seems like those of your ilk are quick to label people these pejorative terms “Sexist, Ablest, Racist ect” on anyone who has a dissenting opinion. The fact is we’ve seen members of the press KICKED OUT of public areas BY FORCE because groups wanted to enforce a “Safe Space”. There’s been public incidents now where Jewish students at certain universities are told not to enter these “safe spaces” because they would offend Palestinians, that’s anti-semetic. There’s also been instances of self-segregation by the black community in order to preserve a “safe space”. Is this really progress? Do we really want a return to the 1950s?

Asking for facts is not prejudice and frankly, the use of the term “white privilege” is despicably racist. My family is Roma, Armenian and I’ve been told my voice on roma issues is not important because I look white.

This idea that we can restrict speech in any context is reminiscent of tactics used by the government in Orwell’s 1984 universe.

Third wave feminists should be ashamed of themselves.

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someone September 21, 2016 - 01:09

Using the term “white privilege” is not racist. White people are privileged in many respects. You talk about not wanting to restrict speech (and I vehemently agree) but then you argue for it yourself.

Reply

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