Safe spaces are not a safe idea

Safe spaces are not a safe idea

Noah Cannon, Guest Column

In Aug. 2018, protestors pulled down the Silent Sam statue that stood at the entrance of the University of North Carolina for more than a century. Why did they pull it down? Because it was of a confederate soldier who writer John Zimmerman referred to as, “a symbol of white supremacy, erected to whitewash the Confederacy and to prop up racial segregation.”

In his article, “College Campuses Should Not Be Safe Spaces,” Zimmerman goes neck deep into the topic of safe spaces, defining two categories: physical and ideological. Physically safe spaces protect people from sexual abuse, physical harm, and bullying, whereas ideological safe spaces protect people from being offended or uncomfortable. 

Zimmerman, who is opposed to the idea of safe spaces, wrote how “Advocates of  safe spaces often invoke free expression, promising to give people the protection that  they need to speak their minds.”

 “But the safe-space doctrine actually creates huge barriers to dialogue, by declaring any discomfort as out of bounds,” he added. “And that makes the university unsafe for all of us.”

I couldn’t agree with him more and would go as far as to say that safe spaces make students and teachers weaker because they take away freedom of speech. 

Zimmerman cites the following example: “In 2016 a group of students at Occidental College argued that the American flag endangered their safety. ‘On a campus that proclaims itself, time and again, to be diverse, equitable, and safe for all of its students, the display of American flags covering the entire academic quad disproved that proclamation,’ the Coalition for Diversity and Equity declared, denouncing a 9/11 memorial on the campus. ‘For us, the flag is a symbol of institutionalized violence.’ They’re entitled to their views of the flag, of course, and they have every right to protest it. But they have no right to be insulated from it, simply because it hurts their feelings. Once you enshrine that kind of safety as the sine qua non of education, you can censor or eliminate anything that might provoke uneasiness, anxiety, or discomfort. You also engender an environment of flaccid group-think, where everyone toes the party line. That’s why many students and faculty members report that they censor themselves, biting their tongues instead of saying what they actually think. Why risk it? It’s so much easier to smile and nod, to go along so we get along.”

To expand on that, everyone has differing opinions and views on life, that’s what makes us unique individuals in this free country. However, by giving in to ideological safe spaces, people become scared to say what they feel for fear of being canceled or getting backlash. Imagine telling a red-blooded American who loves their country that they can’t have flags in their school because some people find it offensive. I understand wanting to respect everyone and make them comfortable but telling someone they can’t support their country is like telling a kid they can’t play with their favorite toy. 

Not only that, but safe spaces censor history and facts. It’s common knowledge that history is jampacked with immoral events: the Jewish Holocaust, the September 11 attacks, and the enslavement of black people. There’s no denying these are horrible events, but some people pretend events like that never happened, or censor information about them to avoid offending people.

Doing such things is a direct insult to history as it makes it more difficult for people to learn from the past if that past is not being mentioned with the full picture involved. Responding to the critics who promote safe space and censorship, I ask this: Should we just pretend that terrible historical events never happened? Sweep them under the rug and only talk about positive things? 

By censoring and covering up historical moments, we are doomed to fall into the same trap that claimed many people who failed to learn. Use history to teach people how to be better. Educate them and help them to make the world a better place.

We live in a country where supposedly, everyone has the right of free speech — where they can say and live anyway they want. We do want to respect people, but that doesn’t mean that everyone should have whatever they want handed to them on a silver platter. Instead of catering to the ideological “safe space” needs of students, we should teach them to stand up for themselves and equip them with knowledge so they understand all sides of the issue and will know how to use it to their advantage. It only takes one person to make a difference.