FRIDAY, JANUARY 22ND, 2021
Following the University of Chicago’s recent announcement not to support safe spaces and trigger warnings on its campus, many colleges and other academic institutions have pitched in with their perspectives on the issue. While the concept of safe spaces originated half a century ago with the purpose of providing the LGBTQ community with environments that did not tolerate violence and harassment, safe spaces have started to extend to many obscure and unpredictable scenarios.

There is a place for safe spaces, just not in an academic setting. Safe spaces have given students the right to block out ideas that they are opposed to at any given moment; trigger warnings allow students to disengage themselves from controversial discussion at their own discretion.

Because of this, The Campanile applauds the stance the University of Chicago has taken on the issues of safe spaces and trigger warnings.

The primary role of academic institutions is to foster intellectual discussion and growth, not to coddle students. Yet many colleges and universities have found themselves traveling down a slippery slope towards censorship.

Safe spaces and trigger warnings allow individuals to deafen themselves to ideas that are disagreeable to them, and while these individuals do not necessarily have to agree with other opinions, it is important for students to acknowledge opposing perspectives.  Failing to do so violates the goal of intellectual diversity that academic institutions should value. The ability of a student to block out opinions of others hinders the free flow of ideas.

Alternatively, there are clubs and organizations, such as LGBTQ, racial and religious communities, whose primary intentions are to create safe spaces. But the recent drift has been that it spreads into classrooms or public speaking venues — areas where free speech should not be restricted.

For example, schools have been canceling potentially controversial guest speakers in favor of respecting safe spaces among the student community.

Furthermore, trigger warnings in the classroom set the dangerous precedent of allowing students to walk out on discussions whenever they feel like doing so. This may be an appropriate practice in specialized organizations, but safe spaces and trigger warnings have no place in academic contexts, which thrive on open discussion.

There comes a point where safe spaces are excessive — students should not engage in discussion with the fear of violating someone else’s safe space, especially when such violations can be unpredictable. In fact, violations of safe spaces are nearly always unintentional.

Encouraging the creation of safe spaces indirectly restricts free speech because it instills in students a fear of offending or triggering someone else.

The Campanile’s stance on the issue does not condone hate speech — there is no room for hostility, particularly in an academic environment. Rather, The Campanile encourages communities both academic and social to create communal norms that deter such malevolence. For example, rather than have an administrative authority “ban racist jokes,” students and teachers alike should learn to stand against what they see as unacceptable. If a community agrees that racist jokes are unacceptable, it is the strongest deterrent — far stronger than any administrative action.

Ironically, while the intent of safe spaces is to promote inclusion and make students of all backgrounds feel welcome, it does the opposite. Because safe spaces allow students the power to isolate themselves from group discussion, they segregate social and academic interactions.

Such a philosophy renders moot the impact of any supposedly-diverse campus, diminishing the quality of education students receive. There are plenty of safe spaces that should and do exist, but we cannot let them extend to academic environments and allow them to cloud intellectual discussions.

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