Safe Spaces have been a matter of contention for quite a number of years. Here’s my take as someone on the verge of the college life:
In theory, the idea of a “safe space” is very appealing. It is unpleasant to encounter people who are critical of your own views or express views that are offensive. Yet as uncomfortable as it is, that is the real world. College should be no different. If anything is learned from the McCarthy era, from the classic novels Farenheight 451 and 1984, or from the lives of people today and in the past that are trapped in a government that allowed for censorship, we must understand the value of free speech. One of the most frustrating yet important aspects of our society is the fact that people are allowed to express their opinions freely without fear of attack, imprisonment, or being silenced. While that often results in people saying things that are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or culturally insensitive, that is the price that we as a society pay for the freedom to say what we want.
Safe spaces should be applied in a different context. Instead of “protecting” students by isolating them from adverse perspectives, certain safe spaces are doing students a disservice in the long term by not giving them the skills and confidence to confront an opposing opinion and handle a situation maturely and professionally. The original idea behind safe spaces is important: students should be able to express their opinions or identities without fear of harassment or physical harm. While small communities of like-minded people do have the power to create monumental change or a feeling of empowerment, a vital point to remember is that the real world is ugly, and does not at all include any shining, perfect, protective bubbles.
In my own high school, I am the founder and president of a Feminism club intended to serve as a safe space to share ideas and experiences. But that is not where it ends. I understand that the safe space only extends so far. Once I leave it, I enter the real world, where I am constantly faced with views contrary to mine. I’ve found that instead of using a safe space as a shield, it is more powerful to use it as a sword. That is not to say that a person should attack those with differing opinions. Rather, a person can develop their own ideas and identities, but sharpen, improve, and change their convictions through interactions with others, in an “iron sharpens iron” capacity.
The responsibility of institutions of higher education to prepare their students for life after school is paramount. Clearly, there are times when things are offensive and unacceptable or put students in danger, and that should absolutely not be condoned. But until we achieve a perfect utopia where nobody disagrees with one another, it is in the students’ best interest to not allow isolating and segregating safe spaces to take root.