When I think of safety I think of physical safety. When you watch the news of the attacks in Paris the first thing you don't think about in an evening with friends at dinner or a soccer game, a concert or simply working at the jobs to entertain, to play or serve that angry obsessed individuals fueled by whatever hate or mantra they have assumed to validate that level of violence to challenge that belief in safety.
So when I read about the safe places/space issue on the Mizzou campus I frankly laughed. Sorry but setting up a camp ground on a public university square sort of cancels that out. I had been to Occupy Wall Street at Zuccotti park and none of the "residents" were demanding a safe place.
In the comment section of this editorial there were many kudos but more debate on what defines "safe" place.
Two of the comments were from Yale alumnus and they had a very different explanation about what defines safe and their experience at Yale
I was an undergraduate at Yale when women were first admitted. My freshmen year, there were brutal rapes of several freshmen women. Those that were against admitting women said hateful things about how the women didn't belong at Yale. Yet a safe space was created and it was by the freshmen men. They would go out of their way to walk women back to their dorms to ensure that women would be safe on campus. This was done quietly, without bravado or expectation of praise. They made sure that the freshmen women were told that they did belong. This was done more loudly, with letters to the editor of the school paper.
We certainly didn't call it a safe space back then, but looking back, it is clear that is what it was.
I find it disheartening that forty years later, students don't understand that colleges are for all and it is up to all students to create a safe space, whether by words or deeds.
I'm an American White Anglo Saxon Protestant male Ivy League lawyer, so yes, I need to check my privilege. I was a graduate of a horrible Indiana public high school, but because of my parents' education and my own good fortune, I escaped to an Ivy League university.So, trust me, "safe spaces" do not exist on planet earth, and most particularly at universities. They never have, they never will. Nor should they.
The point of education is for those being educated NOT to feel safe, NOT to fall back into the space they've always lived in. The point of education is to make students feel safe in space they've never inhabited, and to convince them that, no matter who they are, whatever their background, they can and will feel safe anywhere they go.
Students must make their own safety, which is inward looking, A cathedral once was a "safe" space, until the barbarians burned it down. A University may be a "safe" space but only if it encourages , or at least permits, "unsafe" speech and action.
"You can run but you can't hide" is still true. "Safe spaces" are places people run to, and hope to hide. They don't exist any more, nor should they
The issues currently at Yale (home of the yes means anal) mirrors the issues at Mizzou only with higher fees. Or what about Penn State and the child molester that was enabled by that campus to continue his horror. Or the Catholic Church. From college campuses to churches the idea that there is a safe place to go to be protected is absurd. I see these stickers on buses. Really a bus is a safe place? Have you been on one lately?
Frankly there are greater issues at stake in college. How about financial safety. And that issue alone would push the boundaries of defining safe. Such as why am I paying a fortune to hear ignorant racist remarks from my peers, being put in risk situations as potential rape or assault and getting a degree that does little to secure a well paying job to pay of the loans that will follow me for life threatens my financial safety. As for emotional safety, that comes from going to College. Meeting people who I won't like for a multitude of reasons, having to hear people's bullshit and stupidity, reading books and hearing Professors opine on subjects that I have no interest or in which I disagree and in turn enabling my growth intellectually and personally that in turn builds my emotional security.
My emotional security is years in the making and going to a public university I am sure will challenge that and in turn that is how one grows but the foundation if secure will stand. I don't confuse that with physical safety nor would I expect it today to be fully safe in a public place. Viva la France!
To the American students you need to realize that living is not safe that there are no safe places only safe people whom you can rely if you are lucky and for some of us we are on our own. And we need to make our safety from being strong within. That is something I am not sure you can be taught.
The Seduction of Safety, on Campus and Beyond
Op - Ed
The New York Times
NOV. 13, 2015
I HAVE been searching for safety for most of my life. I experienced a brutal assault when I was young and in that terrible moment, I learned I was vulnerable in unimaginable ways. I have come to crave safety, the idea that I can live free from physical or emotional harm. As an adult, I understand that there is no such thing as safety, that safety is promised to no one, but oh the idea of it remains so lovely, so elusive.
When it comes to human resilience, our culture has grand ideas about the nobility of hardship and suffering. “The world breaks every one, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places,” Ernest Hemingway wrote. And certainly, I became the woman I am today, for better and worse, because of the hardships I have endured. If I had to choose, though, I would prefer to have not lost my sense of safety in the way I did.
I am now always searching for safety, and I appreciate safe spaces — the ones I create for my students in a classroom, the ones I create with my writing and the ones others create, too — because there is so much unsafe space in this world.
This past week, the news media has energetically discussed student unrest at Yale and at the University of Missouri, where students are protesting administrative insensitivity or inaction in the face of troubled racial climates. At Mizzou, in particular, student activists have demanded safe space. A student journalist, Tim Tai, was denied access to the protesters’ tent city in a public area of the campus. The protesters didn’t want to be photographed or interviewed, possibly not trusting journalists to tell their story accurately.
The next day, they rightly changed their stance, opened their space to the media, and a debate on free speech and safe spaces found new life. Quickly, the student protesters were accused of not tolerating free speech in regard not only to Mr. Tai, but also to those who use racial epithets and otherwise engage in hate speech. They were accused of being weak, of being whiny for having the audacity to expect to attend college without being harassed for their blackness.
As a writer, I believe the First Amendment is sacred. The freedom of speech, however, does not guarantee freedom from consequence. You can speak your mind, but you can also be shunned. You can be criticized. You can be ignored or ridiculed. You can lose your job. The freedom of speech does not exist in a vacuum.
Many of the people who advocate for freedom of speech with the most bluster are willing to waste this powerful right on hate speech. But the beauty of the freedom of speech is that it protects us from subjectivity. We protect someone’s right to shout hateful slurs the same way we protect someone’s right to, say, criticize the government, or discuss her religious beliefs.
And so the students at Mizzou wanted a safe space to commune as they protested. They wanted sanctuary but had the nerve to demand this sanctuary in plain sight, in a public space. Rather than examine why the activists needed safe space, most people wrapped themselves in the Constitution, the path of less resistance. The students are framed as coddled infants, as if perhaps we should educate college students in a more spartan manner — placing classrooms in lions’ dens.
Feminism is largely responsible for introducing safe space into our cultural vernacular as a means of fostering open, productive dialogue. In the late 1980s, queer groups began safe space programs that have since flourished on college campuses. When a faculty member puts the safe space symbol on her door, L.G.B.T. students know they have a place on campus where they will not be judged or persecuted for their sexuality or gender identity, where they are safe.
Safe spaces allow people to feel welcome without being unsafe because of the identities they inhabit. A safe space is a haven from the harsh realities people face in their everyday lives.
All good ideas can be exploited. There are some extreme, ill-advised and simply absurd manifestations of the idea of safe space. And there are and should be limits to the boundaries of safe space. Safe space is not a place where dissent is discouraged, where dissent is seen as harmful. And yet. I understand where safe space extremism comes from. When you are marginalized and always unsafe, your skin thins, leaving your blood and bone exposed. You live at the breaking point. In such circumstances, of course you might be inclined to fiercely protect yourself, at any cost. Of course you might become intolerant. Of course you might perceive dissent as danger.
There is also this. Those who mock the idea of safe space are most likely the same people who are able to take safety for granted. That’s what makes discussions of safety and safe spaces so difficult. We are also talking about privilege. As with everything else in life, there is no equality when it comes to safety.
While no one is guaranteed absolute safety, and everyone knows suffering, there are dangers members of certain populations will never know. There is a degree of safety members of certain populations will never know. White people will never know the dangers of being black in America, systemic, unequal opportunity, racial profiling, the constant threat of police violence. Men will never know the dangers of being a woman in America, harassment, sexual violence, legislated bodies. Heterosexuals will never know what it means to experience homophobia.
Those who take safety for granted disparage safety because it is, like so many other rights, one that has always been inalienable to them. They wrongly assume we all enjoy such luxury and are blindly seeking something even more extravagant. They assume that we should simply accept hate without wanting something better. They cannot see that what we seek is sanctuary. We want to breathe.
On college campuses, we are having continuing debates about safe spaces. As a teacher, I think carefully about the intellectual space I want to foster in my classroom — a space where debate, dissent and even protest are encouraged. I want to challenge students and be challenged. I don’t want to shape their opinions. I want to shape how they articulate and support those opinions. I do not believe in using trigger warnings because that feels like the unnecessary segregation of students from reality, which is complex and sometimes difficult.
Rather than use trigger warnings, I try to provide students with the context they will need to engage productively in complicated discussions. I consider my classroom a safe space in that students can come as they are, regardless of their identities or sociopolitical affiliations. They can trust that they might become uncomfortable but they won’t be persecuted or judged. They can trust that they will be challenged but they won’t be tormented.
When students leave my classroom, any classroom, they have to and should face the real world, the best and worst of it. I can only hope they are adequately prepared to navigate the world as it is rather than how we wish it could be. But I also hope they are both realistic and idealistic. I hope that, like me, they search for safety, or work to create a world where some measure of safety, not to be confused with anything as infantile as coddling, is an inalienable right.