December 22, 2015

Safe Spaces: a Weapon?

Safe Spaces: a Weapon?
Zach Colton-Max ‘17


Many GOA students remember walking into Ms. Lowenthal’s sixth grade class each morning and being greeted by a familiar phrase.
Just above the blackboard sat a poster emblazoned with the words “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” As Ms. Lowenthal would explain, the poster was designed to foster dialogue and create an open, nurturing environment for each student. The classroom became a safe space, in which all students could feel comfortable being themselves and learning freely.
Recently, the concept of a “Safe Space” has come into the spotlight, as more and more colleges call for safe spaces. One aspect of safe spaces involves increasing efforts to help minorities on campuses. Most recently, at Missouri University, students staged massive protests against campus racism. When minority students were taunted and threatened and the administration did not act against it, their classmates and others from around the world condemned the administration and brought on the dismissal of two prominent school officials.
The protests at Mizzou became a symbol for the desires of our country’s disenfranchised youth: to create a safe world free from racism. Not only were the students able to make a change in the school’s administration, but the support they received from students all over the country portrayed their generation as much more accepting and willing to defend minorities. However, while the media thoroughly covered the fight for a safe space, it essentially ignored another major narrative.
Tim Tai, a student at Mizzou, was hired by ESPN to photograph the protests. He should have been able to do so, as the protests took place outdoors in the public domain and therefore, he was just exercising his First Amendment right. However, the second that Mr. Tai arrived to photograph the protests, he was told to leave. After his initial resistance, he was surrounded by a group of protestors, intimidated, then forcibly removed.
“We ask for no media in the parameters so the place where people live, fellowship, and sleep can be protected from twisted insincere narratives,” a Twitter account associated with the protesters said, adding that “it’s typically white media who don’t understand the importance of respecting black spaces.”
Essentially, the protesters saw the media and Mr. Tai, an Asian male, as a threat and a subsequent violation of their “safe space.” In their minds, his pursuit of knowledge was making them unsafe. In doing so, the students weaponized the term and essentially completely changed the meaning of it. While a safe space was designed to protect all individuals and ensure that all people are allowed to pursue knowledge free from fear of others, the protesters deemed that safe spaces should be created to protect only certain groups and individuals.
In the words of Ken White, a blogger for the law-oriented blog Popehat, “many use the concept of ‘safe spaces’ as a sword, wielded to annex public spaces and demand that people within those spaces conform to their private norms.”
While Tai’s case may sound like an outlier as a result of the lack of media coverage, there have been similar situations in which safe spaces have been used as a weapon or as a way to censor the media or individuals.
At Smith College, student protesters at a sit-in refused to allow members of the media to cover the protests, unless said members of the media pledged support for their cause.
Most ridiculously, student leaders at the University of Ottawa had the school cancel a free yoga program for handicapped individuals, because they claimed that the leaders of the program and the program itself were racially insensitive and created an unsafe environment.

While Golda Och Academy has managed to steer clear of this concept of ideological hegemony and superiority through the creation of safe spaces, all students should keep an eye out for their own safety. Because while the power to censor the public, individuals and ideas used to come from the barrel of a gun, a new weapon has taken its place: the “safe space.”

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