To many, the simple, modestly furnished room with dimmed lighting and good acoustics at the end of the hall is just that. But to some, that room, and all its mediocrity, is much more. It is a place to come and escape discomforting situations, to never feel ashamed of who you are, to foster hope for the many that have lost it, and more. It is a safe space, which have garnered great controversy as of late.
The classification of “safe spaces” was made with the intent to allow students to withdraw from circumstances that provide them with discomfort, distress, or unease. I was first introduced to the idea of safe spaces when I heard a group of white teenagers bashing the concept of safe spaces, oblivious to the wall of hostility they were building between themselves and their black counterparts. I believe that safe spaces are a necessary escape for individuals who feel victimized, marginalized, targeted, or traumatized in any way. Safe spaces are not meant for certain individuals to make trivial the discomforts of others.
Said safe spaces have worked their way onto college campuses across the United States. However, with the establishment of safe spaces as a widely used label, they have become precisely that: another label. Students across the country are discrediting safe spaces, often regarding them as insignificant and a threat to their freedom of speech. As a result, some colleges feel as though safe spaces are doing more harm than good. Many of these colleges have chosen not to become involved with this movement of providing security and sanctuary for all.
The University of Chicago chose to address their policy on safe spaces and trigger warnings in its acceptance letters to the class of 2020. To summarize, the administration stated that they do not tolerate “so-called ‘trigger warnings’” and “do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces.’” Unsurprisingly, the university has received significant backlash.
In a recent article for Time magazine, RaeAnn Pickett articulates her opposition to the stripping of safe spaces and trigger warnings by the university. She writes, “Whose speech is being protected by these policies? They certainly don’t always foster a healthy relationship with students of color or survivors of trauma or those who live at the intersection of both.” Pickett realizes that without safe spaces to retreat to, some students are forced into the position of having to remain where they are made uncomfortable.
For those fortunate enough to attend college, the experience of living and learning on a campus filled with your peers is one of a kind. The four years spent at college undeniably affect ones transition to adulthood and preparation for the future. Without safe spaces, the ability of an innumerable quantity to thrive and reveal their fullest potential is hindered. With so much time, money, and dedication poured into the college experience, schools should be at the forefront of this movement, not questioning its worth.