The realities of ‘safe space’ on college campuses

Danielle Zukowski

Headline: The realities of ‘safe space’ on college campuses

By: Danielle Zukowski 

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Recently, there has been discussion of having safe spaces on campus. From what I understand, the goal is to create a place absent of offensive opinions. This desire from students has been expressed at Mizzou and other college campuses. The arising controversy pertains to a violation of the first amendment right to freedom of speech.

First, I am hesitant to believe that a utopia of harmony is possible. Is there a way that a physical space could be exclusive from all dissenting opinions? What would these dissenting opinions include? What are the criteria for this uniformity being based upon? Some conservatives argue that these types of spaces intend to put an end to debates on college campuses. These individuals believe that colleges are seeking more like-minded individuals as opposed to striving for diversity. 

Even Democrat President Obama says college students are becoming too soft. He wants students to be willing to hear opinions, read books and otherwise expose themselves to many different viewpoints in order to become informed as well as to form an argument against them. Opposing perspectives are omnipresent and inevitable. A purified space is impossible.

I am wondering if this is the true intention of safe spaces. Are safe spaces trying to eliminate this diversity of opinion or perhaps working towards eliminating discriminating opinions? Are these spaces asking for bias-free colleges? Are they working toward creating a more diverse world through educating peers on racism, sexism, ableism and other forms of discrimination? I wonder if these spaces are intended to encourage acceptance. And yes, if this is the case, this would be limiting some debate. This would eliminate some diversity in opinion. However, the debates and opinions they would be restraining are the racist, sexist, ablist and otherwise discriminatory ones.

I question the feasibility of this goal as well. Of course, a culture inside academia that is free of these biases would be fantastic. Educational development would be significantly easier. Everyone would be accepting. No protest signs. No bias reports. Peace signs. Flowers. Smiles. Good vibes. It sounds very hippie-esque. What happens outside of the university though? Students would not be exposed to real life circumstances. What happens when we have to confront these very prevalent biases in our post-college careers? How do we react then? By saying you can’t say that? By saying this is my safe space free from your ignorance? No. We have to educate them. We have to create awareness through rational argument. We need to instill debate as a tactic.

Reducing biases is incredibly important. Colleges should certainly continue to foster a place that feels accepting, that feels like student concerns are being addressed. Despite the great intentions of these safe spaces, perhaps the critics are somewhat reasonable in their argument against them. These safe spaces are in risk of making students oversensitive and unprepared for the future. People who express discriminatory opinions need to be heard. They need to be heard and they need to have their words dissected to educate others on the existing biases. We can’t avoid these biases and pretend that they are not an issue. We need to confront them head on and defeat them word by word through our rhetorical skills.