The Collegian
Saturday, June 15, 2024

Opinion: the danger of "safe spaces"

College campuses no longer champion intellectual space. Instead, they fixate on providing conflict-free, ideologically-homogenous “safe spaces” that are quickly becoming more dystopian than utopian.

It’s not good. 

This trend is reducing critical thought to compensate for an increasingly hypersensitive generation and strangling controversy in the cradle, rather than allowing it to permeate the collegiate atmosphere and stimulate conversation. Two components of campus life are being explicitly targeted: the medium of language, and the concept of safety.

Language has the unfortunate quality of being easily manipulated. This manipulation is a popular trend in the emerging liberal paradigm, constructed to accommodate hypersensitivity. This is the first way in which intellectual spaces are slowly devolving into “safe spaces,” because limiting language limits conversation. It deliberately shuts out certain topics, declaring them off-limits or taboo. Controlling phraseology removes power from an argument—and more often, removes the argument itself.

Let me give you some examples. I can’t talk about the problem of illegal immigration without being called a xenophobe, or being told that “no human being is illegal.” I can’t talk about why I disagree with the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage without being called a homophobe—even if my reason has nothing to do with gay people. I can’t talk about why I think modern feminism is manipulative without being called a misogynist. I can’t talk about the dangers of obesity without being accused of “body shaming.” I can’t talk about why I think police brutality is oversensationalized without being called racist—even though black-on-black crime is exponentially higher than police-on-black crime and no one talks about it. For a culture of young people obsessed with “no labeling,” they have an awful lot of things to call me.

The idea of safety has also been hijacked and mutilated in the name of hypersensitivity. Safety has traditionally been the absence of physical, bodily or coercive threat. Now, feeling “uncomfortable” because someone has said a word or mentioned a topic you don’t like is equivalent to being unsafe. And since we’ve put “safety” first, the result is an increasingly policed environment where these words and themes are discouraged or outright suppressed. We have become unwilling to disagree and debate because these things are considered inherently “unsafe” to a generation of young adults who prioritize feelings over maturation.

Two terms are pushed by the emerging social justice paradigm to combat and label “unsafe language:” trigger warnings and microaggressions. Word has underlined the second term, if that’s any indication of its legitimacy. Trigger warnings are essentially advertisements that upcoming content contains words or images that may make someone uncomfortable or upset. Microaggressions are seemingly small, harmless comments or actions that are actually hurtful or derogatory. Both are ways to mitigate controversy. Both are ridiculous. Earlier, I read an article about a UCLA professor who was accused of a microaggression when he corrected the grammar on a black student’s paper. Not only is it becoming increasingly difficult to hold conversation, people are even hindered from performing their jobs for fear that they might be accused of racism, sexism or other harassment. This stigma tells people to walk on ice, when in fact, there is none. Utterly ridiculous.

I posit that this paradigm has no place on a college campus, especially ones like the University of Richmond, which considers itself a liberal arts school. This campus is an intellectual space, not a “safe space.” Knowledge has never been safe. How many have been persecuted or killed because they espoused a way of thinking that didn’t bear the seal of approval from the dominating paradigm? If you came to this school expecting a “safe space”, I’d recommend you pack your bags and head home. You should expect that college will rouse discomfort. You should expect that your sensitivity will not be prioritized. This is the place where important, challenging, scary, ambiguous and unsafe questions must be asked. That is how we grow—we expose ourselves to the unsettling, the unfamiliar, and the unforeseeable. Life will provide no “trigger warnings” or “safe spaces” for you. Neither should the University of Richmond.

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