Safe Spaces – Then and Now

I was thinking about Safe Spaces the other day, and I realized they have changed a whole lot from when I was growing up. I was in grade school when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. Afterwards, there was a surge in activity in most cities. An Early Warning System was put into place should there be a nuclear attack. In our town, a speaker was set up on top of the tallest building in town. For a few years after that, we would have monthly drills. The siren would go off and if we were at school, we were instructed to get under our desks and wait for the all clear siren. Our school was about three blocks from a building where there was a bomb shelter set up. In case of a real nuclear attack, I’m assuming we would walk to the bomb shelter. If we could all reach the bomb shelter, we would be “safe” from the impending  attack. That was our Safe Space. fallout-shelter-2835496_640 Photo by Lenzius. Courtesy of Pixabay.

I remember walking by that building as a child and thinking about the Bomb Shelter in the basement. I didn’t know anyone in my town who built one in their backyard, so basically we had one shelter for about 17,000 people. Anyone who was lucky enough to be near the shelter when the attack occurred would be safe initially from the radioactive fallout. The whole town viewed that building as their Safe Space.

Fast forward fifty years. Colleges and universities initially set up Safe Spaces for students so that they could talk about their problems in a safe environment where no one would harass them or make fun of them. I see no problem with that. Students need a space where they can go and be themselves without fear of repercussions. Since their initial set-up, Identity Politics have taken over, and some students go to Safe Spaces so that they will not have to listen to divergent opinions. Instead of interacting in a climate of differing ideas, some students have chosen to isolate themselves so that they do not have to hear or think about anything that is dissimilar to their particular beliefs.

The Safe Spaces of my youth were set up to protect us physically from real biological harm. Some of the Safe Spaces today are being used to protect students from Ideological Diversity. Do they really need protection from ideas that are disparate from the ones they espouse at the moment? What kind of thinkers are we enabling if they will not expose themselves to differing ideas? Are we really willing to encourage students to be weak mentally and not expose themselves process dissimilar opinions?

These are questions we need to ask when setting up Safe Spaces on campus. Are they there to help students who really need help or are they being used to protect students from hearing something they don’t like or feel uncomfortable with? What kind of preparation are we giving them for entry into adult society? They will, after all, have to go out into the real world when they graduate and get jobs. On those jobs, they will be exposed to people from many diverse backgrounds who hold opinions that may be quite different than the ones they espoused in college. Will they be able to cope with them? After all, I have never seen a job site yet that had a Safe Space set up for employees who felt uncomfortable listening to their fellow workers’ opinions. Have you?