College Safe Spaces

About a month or two ago the University of Chicago received quite a bit of public attention for a letter that had been sent to the incoming freshman class. The letter was written to tell the students that they would not find safe spaces and trigger warnings at UChicago since the school will not support them. The university wants to foster an environment in which all their students could participate in the exchange of ideas without being discriminated. In the letter they stated that they felt the elimination of trigger warnings and safe spaces was the step to take to create this atmosphere on the campus.

I’ll be honest. Upon first hearing about what the University of Chicago was doing I agreed that trigger warnings and safe spaces were unnecessary. But as I’ve been completing a project for a class this semester where I have chosen to focus on the debate of trigger warnings and safe spaces, I have begun to question my original opinion.

One particular article that I’ve read recently is the main cause for this change in my thought. This article simply came across my Facebook feed one day. The title said “I’m a black UChicago graduate. Safe spaces got me through college.” So of course I instantly clicked on it and began to read since it had something to do with my project. Not just something to do with it but was provided an opposing opinion to most of what I had been reading.

The article was written by Cameron Okeke, a recent graduate of University of Chicago. In the article he writes about a campus atmosphere that involves the “university’s willful ignorance of students’ concerns, especially students of color” (Okeke). He tells of how he needed the safe space of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs “not to ‘hide from ideas and perspectives at odds with [his] own,’ but to heal from relentless hate and ignorance, to hear and be heard” (Okeke).

He didn’t want the safe space to hide but rather to heal. It was an approach to the use of safe spaces that I had not heard before. My thoughts on safe spaces had always skewed them towards a place that students could go when they wanted to ignore an idea that was opposing to their own. I felt like it was almost a place to run to when you couldn’t defend your own opinion and didn’t want to be opposed. But now having read Okeke’s article I see that I have been wrong.

At least in part. For some students safe spaces would simply offer a place for them to gather and talk about their shared experiences of discrimination and hate without being judged or shut down. It’s not that they want to hide but rather that they want the chance to heal, “to hear and be heard” (Okeke).

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