Are safe spaces ‘safe’ anymore?

Pradyot Sharma


Safe Spaces and trigger warnings have been a topic of much debacle over the past decade in universities.

This issue was recently fired up when the University of Chicago sent a letter to its incoming  freshmen saying it wouldn’t condone safe spaces and trigger warnings.

An important question that needs to be addressed in the academic world is: “Do intellectual safe spaces go against intellectual and social progress?”

I interviewed Patrick Faircloth, the founder and faculty adviser of Safe Zone for All here at Troy University.

“We encourage radical inclusion, not exclusion,” he said. “… The idea of the safe zone is if the student feels they can’t speak or is anxious, they can talk to someone who isn’t always the ultimate solution, … but is willing to listen to them and connect them to the best individual to talk to.”

When I asked him if he felt that this was the evolution of safe spaces, he said that he felt this was the “logical step forward.” The organization is looking for a different way to get everyone into the conversation, because all voices should be heard in a chorus.

He feels that students should understand that the university is a place where we can have these conversations, as we are expected to be educational centers that encourage freedom of speech, freedom of thought, discourse and a civil conflict of ideas but not conflicts of people.

Faircloth said that he was concerned about the possible social implications of safe zones. He believes that it would be helpful to collect data from schools where safe spaces are implemented and see how effective they are.

Students here at Troy feel strongly about safe zones as well.

When asked about his views on this issue, Jacob Rogers, a freshman biomedical sciences major from Andalusia, said that he felt it was the right decision not to have safe spaces in the form that they have evolved into today.

“When someone has an issue, they need to talk about it and not hide from it,” Rogers said. Presented with the concept of Troy’s Safe Zone for All, he said that he felt that was a better way to address issues.

“It shouldn’t be a place where they can go hide and avoid the world,” said Amber Pugh, a sophomore athletic training major from Birmingham. “Safe spaces in their original conception was a good idea and should be a place where victims of abuse or people who feel like they need to step away can go have a rehabilitant conversation.”

The concept of safe spaces and trigger warnings in educational institutions originated at a time when there was serious discrimination and hate against the LGBTQ+ community.

They were meant to be a place in schools where no hate speech or discrimination would be tolerated, a place where people could go and have a conversation about their issues without the fear of being challenged and spoken against.

Recently though, safe spaces have been taken to extremes that could be seen as a hindrance to academic progress.

At Brown University last year, there was a controversy when a debate on campus sexual assault was heavily protested because one student group felt that the expression of views there could be damaging to victims. In the New York Times report on the debate, one student was quoted  saying she required a safe space because a lot of viewpoints in the debate went against her closely held beliefs.

I feel this goes against academic and intellectual progress. We need to be willing to listen to opinions different from what we hold.

Colleges and universities should be places that reflect what society looks like tomorrow. In academia, we must have an environment where we can openly discuss issues. We must have a place where our words may conflict but lead to a solution that benefits us all.

In order to develop a society that is tolerant to people despite their race, religion, gender or sexuality, we need to be willing to listen to views from both sides no matter how different they may be from our own. Instead of safe spaces in a traditional sense, Troy’s idea of radical inclusion could be one of the ways to encourage conversations and still provide support for the speakers.

We want a setting where individuals are protected from hate speech and marginalization while they are still given an equal say in the larger conversation. Our ultimate goal should be to work with them to create a society where they do not feel different or discriminated against.

I believe that safe spaces, as they exist today, go against that goal.

Related posts