Do “Safe Spaces” threaten higher education?


A recent debate has been growing about the presence of so-called “Safe Spaces” on college campuses.

A Safe Space is, as defined by the Safe Space Network, “a place where anyone can relax and be able to fully express, without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or unsafe on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, religious affiliation, age or physical or mental ability.”

Upon many other complaints from our elders, one particular gripe from members of Generation X and baby-boomers is that Millennials are too “sensitive” and easily offended.

If we, as students, refuse to engage in lessons that make us uncomfortable, how are we ever to grow as individuals?

Due to recent developments in both American politics and social climate, the new focus on neutral language and political correctness often baffles those who are used to speaking more bluntly about issues regarding race, sexual orientation or other societal norms.

These same individuals feel that safe spaces attack their right to freedom of speech and only serve to protect people from the “real world.” That leaves many of today’s students seeking refuge from public scrutiny with a question: where do we draw the line between a healthy amount of controversy and prejudice in an educational environment?

As a former debater, I feel that it is necessary to engage in conversations that challenge your beliefs and might otherwise make someone uncomfortable. This allows one to eliminate any passive bias and better understand the opposition. The real danger of making education a safe space by over-simplifying social justice. And when we project this onto our educators, we run the risk of censoring higher-learning in its entirety.

Even those who support the rights and concerns of minority groups say that sometimes education should not be an entirely “Safe Space,” and certain material in learning is meant to make the student uncomfortable. For instance, in a Vox article, “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me,” an unnamed college professor said, “rocking the boat isn’t just dangerous—it’s suicidal” in education.

Many students’ microaggressions and angry emails can seriously endanger professors’ and aides’ prospects of employment at a university, even if they genuinely did not mean any offense. As a result, many educators will alter their classes to avoid something that might generate conflict, often at the cost of what could be considered vital learning material.

Personally I hope we never degrade the process of education into something resemblant of customer service, and force our educators not to look at us as students, but as unhappy consumers.

Benjamin M. Hummel is an English and speech & communications major at SDSU and can be reached at [email protected].